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South Africa v England

Pope seeks to emulate benchmark-setting Root and Stokes after successful SA tour

by Wisden Staff 3 minute read

After playing a big part in England’s 3-1 series victory in South Africa, young England middle-order batsman Ollie Pope, one of the standout performers of the tour, looked back at the invaluable experience gained from the series, and hoped the game time and runs amassed would hold him and his side in good stead in the future.

The 22-year-old Pope, who was just four Tests old at the start of the tour, struck 266 runs in three Tests, at an average of 88.66, and brought up his maiden Test hundred in the third game in Port Elizabeth.

The performances of Pope, alongside those of 24-year-old Dom Sibley, who topped England’s run charts, and the 21-year-old Zak Crawley, whose 66 set the tone for England’s 191-run win in the final Test in Johannesburg, came as substantial gains for an England side that had been stuck in a rut, following a failed campaign at home to reclaim the Ashes and a series defeat in New Zealand.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Pope said. “The way this series has gone, it’s been nice for Sibbers, Crawley and myself to get some game time and get some runs as well, which has been really good for all of us going forward.

“Obviously, we’re still young guys and I think that’s what we needed – a few scores under our belts to give you the confidence to know you can do it at this level. Definitely, doing it in a winning cause makes all the difference as well, from a personal point of view.”

Though the series turned out to be a revelation for Pope and the other youngsters in the side, Pope acknowledges the little room to rest on your laurels in international sport. It’s a lesson England learned the heard way not too long ago, when their inability to get over their World Cup high cost them an Ashes series win at home for the first time in 18 years.

In March England will embark on a tour of Sri Lanka, where they swept the home team 3-0 on their last visit of the island nation.

“Looking at the guys around you, you definitely never stand still,” Pope said. “You’re learning from Rooty [Joe Root, the Test captain] and Stokesy [Ben Stokes]. They set a benchmark from a batting point of view. They’re always looking ahead, always thinking about that next series coming up and how they can prepare themselves best for that. That’s definitely what I’ll be learning to do from now on as well.

“It’s going to be completely different cricket to what it is out here from a batting point of view. We play on pretty quick wickets out here and you might not face many overs of spin. In Sri Lanka, they might open with spin.”

Pope is yet to wear a limited-overs cap. Red-ball cricket is where he also made a name for himself at the domestic level, with his big county runs, before breaking into the Test XI. But that has not stopped Pope from harbouring aspirations of representing England’s world champion one-day side and their T20 unit someday.

“My dream is to play all three formats for England,” Pope said. “I see myself as a white-ball player as well, but our team is pretty established at the moment. They’ve got a great batting line-up, a great middle order, so if I want to get in that white-ball side, I’ve got to bide my time, score my runs in county cricket and, hopefully, keep scoring some Test runs and that’ll look after itself.”

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