On the back of Sam Curran’s match-winning Edgbaston exploits, England has gone young again with their latest selection.
With Dawid Malan failing again with the bat (and dropping three crucial catches in the slips) during the first Test against India, the selectors have called up Ollie Pope to replace him. Pope becomes the second 20-year-old in the squad, joining his Surrey teammate Curran, who earned the Player of the Match plaudits in the thrilling victory over India.
Pope is a middle-order batsman who has been in excellent form during the English county season, but one wonders if the England selectors are being overly ambitious in selecting a second 20-year-old for the second Test at Lord’s. Curran proved that age is no determinant of ability, as did South African batsman Reeza Hendricks, who scored a century on his ODI debut at the age of 28.
The rest of the England squad carries a great deal of experience, so it’s to the credit of the selectors that they have had the courage to go with another exciting young player. Pope’s selection will also offer an incentive for all cricketers eligible to play for England to up their game in a bid to be noticed by the selectors… and it’s always good when there are a lot of hungry and motivated cricketers eagerly fighting for places in a national side.
‘Ollie Pope has made an exceptional start to his first-class career,’ said England national selector Ed Smith. ‘He has reached 1,000 first-class runs in just 15 matches and is the first division’s standout batsman this season with 684 runs at 85.00. The selection panel believes that Ollie’s performances and character suggest he is well suited to international cricket.’
The right-handed batsman has already scored three centuries this season, with a top score of 158 not out against Yorkshire at the end of May. He enjoyed regular appearances in the Young Lions squads during 2016-17, as well as appearing for the Lions against India A in July, scoring an undefeated 50 as his side enjoyed an impressive 253-run win at Worcester.
‘He’s got a load of talent,’ said Surrey cricket director and former England star keeper-batsman Alec Stewart. ‘He’s also mentally strong and a very quick learner. He just gets better and better each game, he soaks up all the information that comes his way. For someone so young, he understands his game and it’s a good selection.
‘Has it come too early? I always say, if you’re good enough you’re old enough, and he’s certainly showed that he’s a consistent run-scorer. Now he’s got to transfer those skills and those runs on to a higher level.
‘Because he’s such a clever cricketer, and an intelligent cricketer, I expect him to stand up and say, “Listen, I’m fine at No 4, whether I go in in the third over or when [Ravichandran] Ashwin is bowling, I’ll have a method of technique and game plan to cope.” I’m really, really excited for him. He’s like a kid in a sweet shop – all his Christmases have come at once,’ beamed Stewart.
In the last month, however, Pope has only played three first-class innings, including two against India A, and has only one half-century in his last nine innings in all formats since 6 July. In his favour is the fact that he is a versatile batsman who has impressed in all three formats of the game for Surrey, so he’s certain to be adequately prepared for Test action.
Pope made his 50-over debut in 2016 in the Royal London Cup semi-final win over Yorkshire. A wicketkeeper-batsman, Pope was not called on to glove up in that match as, ironically, there were five wicketkeepers in that Surrey side; their coach (Stewart) also kept wicket during his playing days for Surrey and England.
Neither is England’s latest bright young thing a player known to be daunted by big occasions: he scored 38 off 39 balls in his first innings in first-class cricket, and his maiden County Championship century came up in only his third championship appearance, which was against Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl. The cricketing world waits eagerly to see what fate has in store for England’s 687th Test cap this Thursday at Lord’s… and a bigger occasion you could not wish for against the No 1-ranked Test team in the world.
Ollie Pope – career batting stats
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