England’s Ollie Pope looking forward after a summer to forget
Pope is back and hungry for more success ( Getty Images for Surrey CCC )
Back in April, Surrey could reasonably have anticipated this being a week of celebration – with the county bringing home a second successive County Championship title.
As it was, they welcomed Nottinghamshire to the Oval, with an over-riding sense of relief that only one team will be relegated from cricket’s top flight this season.
Had it been the usual two, then the Brown Caps would have found themselves involved in an unseemly race for survival.
Had Ollie Pope - who was called up for England's Test tour of New Zealand this week after finishing the season averaging 80 in the County Championship - been available for the whole season then things might have worked out very differently.
As it was, Pope's dislocated shoulder back in April, proved a huge blow, not just to the player, but to a county that many predicted would run away with the tile again this season.
Another hundred this week gave a further tantalising glimpse of what Surrey had missed out on.
Pope joined with the England squad for the Headingley Test in August as cover for Jason Roy after the latter took a blow to the head in the nets.
Given he had played a single innings in the Championship since his return from surgery, it was an indication of just how highly the England management rate him.
Mind you, that innings was an unbeaten double century, scored over seven hours against Hampshire in South London, which also illustrates just how precocious the 21-year-old is.
And with three Test tours this winter, it's likely that Pope will play an increasing role in England’s plans – despite Surrey’s underwhelming season across all three formats.
“It hasn’t been the year that everybody hoped for, to be honest,” says Pope. “I missed nine Championship matches, which has been hugely frustrating. And it makes it even harder when the team has been struggling.
“I hoped I could have had a positive impact on the side so it made it even tougher to be sat out.
“I’m an impatient patient but I did the right things. I hated the time off because I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing but that made me pretty relentless with my rehab. Being impatient and disliking being away from the action so much probably got me a few weeks ahead of schedule.”
Pope’s dislocation came within days of Kent and England’s Sam Billings suffering the same injury in remarkably similar circumstances. Billings has returned with a similar hunger for runs – scoring three centuries in his three most recent innings – and the pair had the opportunity to share horror stories while waiting to go under the knife.
“Everyone says we look alike and could actually be the same person,” says Pope, laughing. “He was the last person I saw before I got wheeled in to have the operation. (The dislocation) was pretty painful. I remember diving and landing. The pain was incredible and then I felt my arm and the bone wasn’t where it used to be. I hobbled off the pitch and sat on the physio’s bench trying to get as much of the oxygen as I could to numb the pain.
Pope got himself back in the runs after injury (Getty Images for Surrey CCC)
“Luckily enough the doctor was there. The shoulder was out for 20 minutes and I had a few firm words with him and told him to get it back in as I was in that much pain. He managed to pop it back in, which made the journey to the hospital a little less painful. I had broken my arm being a bit of an idiot as a youngster on a trampoline but this was worse.”
At least there was plenty of cricket to keep Pope entertained as he recovered. He was at the Oval for the start of England’s World Cup campaign against South Africa but watched the final against New Zealand on his own, having his nerves shredded in splendid isolation.
“You couldn’t write what happened,” says Pope. “I just watched it in my flat, I was pretty nervous. I couldn’t really enjoy it with anyone, I had to watch it on my own. It’s so good for the game. I was walking down the road and saw cricket on big screens. I’ve seen kids playing on the street, which I don’t think you would have seen at the start of the summer.
“It has been pretty amazing. I remember watching the 2005 series as a youngster but the number of my mates who haven’t followed cricket before but now think they know it all is amazing. It’s great to see. The crowds we’ve had at the Oval too have been incredible. They’re normally huge at the Oval but we’ve been selling out (T20) games on a Tuesday night as well. It’s a great time to be involved with the sport.”
And with a renewed emphasis on Test cricket, Pope looks set to assume a far more central role.