England rookie Ollie Pope dislocated his shoulder last year while fielding for Surrey during the Royal London One-Day Cup. What followed was an extensive rehabilitation program that kept him out of action for two months straight. The frustrating period every athlete hates like sin and would blithely splurge millions to avoid.
Though having regained match-fitness, Ollie Pope returned to ply his trade against Middlesex. Facing his very first delivery after the lay-off, the right-hander pranced down the track and hoisted Toby Roland Jones over the cover fence for six. It was an audacious, borderline ridiculous shot for somebody who'd not picked a bat for weeks on end. Twenty yards away, non-striker Mark Stoneman placed his hands on his head, failing to register the magic he'd just witnessed.
There's an unnerving sense of restlessness that grips the air when Ollie Pope occupies the crease. Yes, the exuberance of youth does make impromptu appearances now and then in the form of booming swishes or rampant hooks. Still, the urgency has more to do with his modus operandi of being proactive and accumulating runs. Pinching singles, rotating the strike, sprinting hell for leather, dispatching the odd loosener. There's velocity to his game even if the boundaries aren't exactly flowing.
Ollie Pope steadies England's ship
Ollie Pope's hustle spared England a few blushes on the opening day at Manchester. He shared an enterprising hundred-run partnership with Jos Butler to snatch back the initiative from West Indies' grasp. When Kemar Roach trapped Dom Sibley plumb for nought early in the morning session, the familiar connotation of 'here we go again' might have vibrated through the England dressing room.
Joe Root was caught napping by an electric side-arm flick from Roston Chase, sending the alarm bells ringing even louder. And Roach knocking over crown jewel Ben Stokes with an absolute peach created the perfect storm for another batting implosion so characteristic of England in recent times. However, thanks to Pope's counter-punching unbeaten 91, the hosts were able to negate the domino effect.
Ollie Pope wasn't just holding fort for the team's cause but also warding off the pressure of not having scored something of note in his previous outings.
"It is nice to get a few and it does feel like a little bit of a weight off the shoulders. To miss out in previous games and to be in such an intense environment where we you are not able to see your family, has been a little bit challenging.", Pope conceded to broadcaster Sky Sports after the day's play.
"I had a few challenges early on with Kemar Roach - I probably was a bit tentative outside off stump when I saw him shaping a few away. I was happy with how I was driving but I edged one short of Jason Holder at slip and and got a bit of luck so I learnt my lessons. I just tried to get back to watching the ball as close as I can and not drag those hands outside off stump. I didn't try to over-hit - if I was trying to drive for two there was less of a chance of me nicking it.", Pope added.
Ollie Pope's handling of off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall was beyond excellent. His fleet-footed movements enabled him to camp on to the backfoot to regulation drifters pitched anywhere around good length. Besides thumping drives to overpitched freebies, he'd occasionally put his dancing shoes on and needle the cherry between catching mid-wicket and mid-on with surgical precision.
If, and when, Cornwall managed to hover around nifty channels outside the off-stump, Ollie Pope would drop the cherry to backward point and tick the scoreboard along.
"I have always been a busy player. I was lucky enough to play with Sangakkara and a number of times he would nick a single off the first ball of the innings just to get off the mark. It's a real good way of putting the bowler under pressure and not letting him bowl six balls at you.", opined Pope.
Whether Ollie Pope can produce runs for England consistently remains to be seen, but you'd be a fool to bet against him churning a truckload. The journey will be replete with crests and troughs of course, but his uber-cool demeanour and level-headed approach certainly hint towards an exciting future.