Ollie Pope: Arrival Number 2
The Oval is Ollie Popes well documented stomping ground. Much like Woakes at Lords or Anderson at Trent Bridge whenever Ollie Pope steps foot on the Oval deck he must feel a sense of belonging, a sense of this is his territory, he owns the land on which his opponents walk and shall do with it as he pleases. Yet it isn’t an alpha move, there is no beating of the chest and unwavering aggression; instead, as Ollie Pope marked his crease and assessed the field, he had a little smirk on his face, he’s been here before, he’s done this countless times, he knows what to expect. His innings was filled with this self assurance and yesterday was when the conversion started again- Ollie Pope is a special talent, and his 81 was a sign of things to come.
Today was the day when the penny dropped for many people- Ollie Pope is the real deal. Pope has always had the talent but, despite having already ticket the notional box of ‘arriving’ in test cricket at Port Elizabeth, the doubts were there. Sam Robson, Adam Lyth, Nick Compton, Mark Ramprakash all also ‘arrived’ but it was after this that their struggles began, their arrival was forgotten and sadly they never truly returned. Ollie Pope (who has been afforded more time than some of the aforementioned names) however showcased that he can return and that his test career is far from over.
Whilst the drives were glorious it was the discipline and methodology of Popes scoring that was most impressive throughout. Pope understood where to attack, when to attack and how to attack. He understood that attacking doesn’t necessitate a boundary, instead one with his innate talent can place a ball wherever the gaps are and accumulate runs. In county cricket Pope knows that the boundary shot will present itself sooner rather than later (and a player of his calibre can almost certainly take advantage of it), but yesterday he seemed to understand that in test cricket he has to carve those chances out for himself and still be able to stand up and take them. Ollie Pope constructed an innings yesterday and despite the lack of three figures he was Englands main man; something we may see a lot more of in the future.
One passage of play highlighted Popes talent was as he dismantled Shardul Thakur. Change bowlers are often far weaker and Thakur played into this stereotype but the manner in which Pope reacted was filled with dismay and conviction. Thakur went full and straight trying to attack Pope's pads so Pope obliged and simply took him either side of the fielder at mid-on; Pope showed he had changed from the New Zealand series. Then Thakur tried to play it short and even though the bowl barely bounced, Pope saw the ball like a balloon, let it sit up and smashed him to the boundary. A few balls later Thakur realised he had tried to attack Pope and failed in a rather embarrassing manner and now Thakur had to defend. The ball was fine, on a good length (maybe just back of), a little bit wide outside off but most players would leave it; not Ollie Pope. At the start of his test career he would have chased it, a few months ago he would have been forced to leave it by his technique, yesterday though, Pope just dropped it into the offside for a single. That was the moment it felt like this game finally clicked for Pope. Time is on his side both in the middle in each innings and in his career as a whole and when he uses this there are very few who can bowl to him.
Now the caveats are there, the wicket was flat and the dismissal soft but even then, anyone who watched that innings realised that this kid can play. Port Elizabeth was the arrival of Pope's talent on the international stage, The Oval was the arrival of Pope's grit and determination. His second arrival wasn't as dramatic as the first but it may yet prove to be far more vital.