Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

“It’s been great being on a similar journey with teammates I’ve known for years”: Surrey’s Ollie Pope on his hot start to the cricket season and sharing a dressing room with friends

Posted on 12 May 2018 by Ben Morse

Despite the fledgling County Cricket season, there have already been a number of noteworthy incidents. 

We’ve seen Peter Siddle bowling in a beanie. We’ve seen the aforementioned beanie-wearing Siddle break Rilee Rossouw’s bat in quite hilarious fashion. 

And we’ve also seen the coming-of-age of a young Surrey team that are ready to take this County Championship by storm. 

Surrey have always been known as the big spenders, attracting big names such as Kumar Sangakkara, Aaron Finch, Dean Elgar and, most recently, Indian captain Virat Kohli. 

But this year, while still having these star players, they are backed up by a young group of players who have progressed through the Surrey academy and now are all first team regulars. 

Ryan Patel, Sam Curran, Amar Virdi and Ollie Pope played in the youth teams together and are teammates in the Surrey first XI. 

In fact last year, when they were all 19 years old, Surrey became the first county to field four teenagers in a Championship match during the post-war era. 

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And Pope believes that they’ve helped one another to grow as cricketers, he said: “It’s been a real privilege to play for Surrey (my home county) all the way through the age groups and now in the first team. 

“I wouldn’t like to speak for the other three guys but for me, it’s been great being on a similar journey with teammates I’ve known for years, and last season when we were all part of the same professional side for the first time which was really memorable. 

“I think we have probably helped each other along the way too, and hopefully we continue to share the dressing room together for years to come and you never know, maybe other dressings rooms along the way!”

While the quartet were blooded in the first XI last year, they are major contributors this year. Most notably Virdi has been touted as a possible future England spinner after a strong start to this season whilst Pope already has two centuries to his name. 

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Whilst Pope has learnt a lot in the Surrey youth system, he believes his experience playing abroad has helped him develop into a county cricket regular, with his most successful time coming in the winter of 2017 when he spent time playing in Sydney for the Campbelltown-Camden Cricket Club. 

He said: “I’ve done a number of cricket tours and a few trips away here and there over the last few years but this was the first time I’ve been away from home for a significant period of time. 

“I didn’t really know what to expect from the trip before I left but set out to enjoy the experience and do my best to improve my game. 

“Looking back now the trip worked out really well for me – I managed to put in some good performances on the cricket field, met some great people and even learnt how to cook! 

“From a cricketing perspective, I learnt a lot about my approach to the game, how to play week in, week out in an intense environment (grade cricket) and how to adapt my game to the different conditions.”

Pope’s time in Sydney was capped off when Chris Patterson, MP for the district of Camden in New South Wales, thanked Pope during a parliamentary session for his contribution to Sydney cricket. 

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Pope said of the speech: “To be honest the whole thing came as a huge surprise – I didn’t expect for one minute when I set foot in Australia to be returning having been mentioned in NSW Parliament. 

“When I set out in Sydney I had plans to try and prove myself on the cricket field and to be respected as a club member at Campbelltown but to be mentioned in that capacity after the experience was a real honour.”

Pope began his journey into cricket from a young age, but didn’t specialise in cricket until later in life. 

He said: “Although I’ve been involved in playing cricket from a very young age and have been with Surrey all through the age groups, I’ve had an interest in a number of sports all the way through too – I love playing golf and watching football, Arsenal being my team. 

“Sport in general has been a passion and has inspired me. In terms of a specific inspiration growing up, I would say I’ve always looked up to my parents.”

Being a young, aspiring sports star, having mentors and experienced players involved in their team is vital for their development and at Surrey, Pope is lucky enough to have a top quality wicket-keeper batsmen in the form of Ben Foakes. 

And Pope has tried to be a sponge for all of Foakes’ wisdom. He said: “Sharing a dressing room and cricket field with Foakesy over the last year has been class. 

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“He’s the one of the best, if not the best, wicket-keeper in the country so watching him in action and working with him has been a great experience for me! 

“We get on well, which always helps and he has been really supportive when helping me develop my game.”

Part of Surrey’s modus operandi is the signing of these big name superstars and during Pope’s brief time in the first XI, he has played with players like Kumar Sangakkara, Aaron Finch, Dean Elgar, Kevin Pietersen and (by the end of the season) Virat Kohli. 

And it hasn’t completely sunk in that he pulls on the same brown cap as these superstars. He said: “If someone told me 18 months ago that I would have shared a dressing room with any of the guys mentioned over the past year I would have thought that they were on the wrong planet!

“Not only has that happened but I’ve been lucky enough to have been at the crease with them – obviously Kumar was on fire throughout the season last year and just being able to speak to him between overs was a fantastic learning experience! 

“I was also at the other end last year when Finchy whacked a T20 100 at the Oval and just standing at the other end and watching was awesome. 

“Moreover finding out that Kohli will now be with us for the whole of June is another world class name to add to that list….hopefully I’ll get some time to pick his brains during that month!”

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With this perfect blend of superstars, experienced regulars and a tight-knit group of young, talented cricketers, you would be forgiven for thinking that Pope could get ahead of himself about Surrey’s chances this season. 

But he’s remaining firmly level-headed, he said: “I think the clubs aim and my aim would be very similar – we all want to try our best to win some silverware this year, whether that would be in the white ball or red ball format. 

“Personally I want to enjoy my cricket, perform to the best of my ability and see where that might take me – I’m aware that this is only my second season in the professional game and I’m trying not to get ahead of myself.

“Cricket is one of those sports where at times you need to ride the ups and the downs!”