Ollie Pope is only just shy of being 14 months older than Harry Brook but he is prepared to take on a mentoring role ahead of the latter’s likely England Test debut.
Yorkshire batter Brook, 23, is all but certain to be tasked with replacing the injured Jonny Bairstow on Thursday, when England begin their deciding third Test against South Africa at the Oval.
Pope has made 28 Test appearances since facing India in his 2018 debut, and admitted the pressures of international red-ball cricket can surprise even the most prepared player.
He said: “For someone like Brooky, I know the challenges international cricket can bring.
“He’s definitely someone I’ll chat to. It’s not me saying how to bat, it’s just saying what I found has worked for me over my time so far as an England cricketer and the times when it hasn’t necessarily worked for me, because it hasn’t always been smooth sailing and I’m sure it won’t be going forward.
“It’s just almost learning how to deal with the good and the bad of Test cricket. Not that it’s bad, just the lower phases when you’re struggling for your own form and as a team. It’s only things you can feed off and give advice to for someone like Brooky coming through.”
Pope understands first hand how a cricketer’s career can quickly veer from high to low and back again. He brought up his maiden Test century in January 2020 but was dropped midway through the Ashes the following winter, stepping in as an emergency wicketkeeper in the fourth Test before he was recalled for the fifth.
He has earned the favour of England’s new red-ball leadership team of captain Ben Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum, who promoted Pope to the number-three role ahead of the squad’s New Zealand series in June, where he brought up his second Test ton.
Call it the ‘Bazball’ effect or simply the drive of a man determined to silence his doubters, but the backing has helped transform Pope from a man shaken by the Ashes to a confident cricketer having the time of his life with an equally ebullient England squad.
“In the car on the way in I was thinking this is the most fun I have had in an England shirt,” he said.
“We had a week off and I was chatting to (Jack) Leach, it was, ‘I can’t wait to see the lads, train, see what this week has in store’. Hopefully it’s a good week but it’s a bit of a journey we’re on as well.
“We’re such a close group at the minute, we’ve toured a lot together as this core squad. I feel like it’s the closest we’ve been. We spend way more time with each other off the pitch, we play a lot more golf together and we just hang around each other a lot more.
“And that helps on the pitch as well – that can make everyone feel like it’s ‘our’ team that bit more which helps the boys go out and perform and play for each other, too.”