Pope aims to emulate Smith and Kohli as he bids to reach top of the game

By Rory Dollard, PA Cricket Correspondent, Port Elizabeth

Ollie Pope has set his sights on becoming one of the world’s leading batsmen and is taking his cues from the best in the business.

Pope is just five matches into his international career but is being tipped as the most promising young player to emerge from county cricket since his England captain, Joe Root.

The 22-year-old boasts a towering first-class average of 58.06 and is beginning to find his feet at international level, with half-centuries in two of his last three innings heading into Thursday’s third Test against South Africa.

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Those who have watched him closely at Surrey expect Pope to become a cornerstone of the side and he does shy away from the expectation. Instead, he has made a point of watching and learning from the most dominant players of the current generation – Steve Smith and Virat Kohli.

Pope is aiming to follow the lead of the likes of Smith (Mike Egerton/PA)
Pope is aiming to follow the lead of the likes of Smith (Mike Egerton/PA)

Reflecting on the impressive 61 not out he made last week in Cape Town and how he managed the lower order, Pope said: “The way I went about my innings was just remembering how some of the best players in the world have done it.

“I remember watching Smith and Kohli from when they played against England and how, even when they were nine down, they were trying to face almost every ball.

“You ask any young batsman coming into the game, 100% they are the guys you want to be like – and Rooty. They have been the main run-scorers in international cricket over the last however many years and hopefully I’ve got the game that I can start building towards that, get some big scores and follow in some of their footsteps.

“I wouldn’t say I tried to copy their techniques at all because they all play completely differently but the one thing they’ve all got in common is having those solid foundations and they can build their game around that. That’s what I’m trying to do as well, just nailing those basics and nailing the technique. Hopefully, if I keep doing the right things, the big scores will follow.”

By publicly aiming so big, Pope shows the kind of self-belief not all newcomers feel able to tap into when they make the step up. He insists that has not always been the case and was far less settled during his first couple of appearances in the summer of 2018.

“The first time I was picked I felt like it was almost a bit of a lottery,” he said.

“I was thinking ‘hopefully I’ll get a score but if I miss out then so be it’. Over the last year or so I’ve got a lot of confidence. At the moment I feel like I’m in a good place with my game and I know I’ve got the technique and mindset to go and do it.”

Pope is also willing to put in the hard work on practice days and has fallen in with the team’s most tireless trainer, Ben Stokes.

“I think in New Zealand I realised what was needed, so I’d go under Stokes’ wing a little bit and after the warm-up games we’d run back to the hotel and even do a running session the day before the games,” he explained.

Pope had a difficult start to his Test career (Anthony Devlin/PA)
Pope had a difficult start to his Test career (Anthony Devlin/PA)

“I think you can get used to getting in those good habits. You can control everything in your power to make sure you’re as fit as you can be and you’re training as well as you can. It’s good to see the way these guys go about it.”

But while he is happy to run like Stokes, he accepts there are some things that have to be done differently in the middle.

“Stokesy can just whack every ball out of the park and clear the men on the rope” he said.

“Us smaller lads have to go about it in a bit more of a smart way!”

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