It should be no surprise that Ollie Pope is relishing the chance to play for Surrey again.
The 23-year-old’s ascent to the pinnacle of the world game, seemingly unstoppable two years ago, came up against the powerful obstacles of two serious shoulder injuries and a worldwide pandemic.
Pope dislocated his left shoulder while fielding for Surrey against Essex in April 2019, during a Royal London Cup match, but returned impressively to score his maiden Test century against South Africa in Port Elizabeth in the 2019-20 winter series.
Last year’s Covid-shortened campaign saw spend him much of the summer in the England ‘bubble’ and it was while fielding against Pakistan in the final Test that he tore the rotator cuff when the same shoulder popped out again. That meant more surgery and put him out for another long period, returning for the recent Test series in India.
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So when Pope takes the field against Gloucestershire in the LV Insurance County Championship opener at Bristol – having warmed up by scoring a century in the friendly with Middlesex at the Kia Oval over Easter – it will end a long exile from his county side.
“My last game was against Nottinghamshire, which was more than a year and a half ago now,” says Pope. “We’ve got eight Championship games which we can settle into and, from a personal point of view, it will be great to just get used to batting in the middle.”
A first-class average of 50.40 since making his debut in 2017 underlines how powerful a force he has become in the Surrey middle-order. When he returned at the end of the 2019 season, follow the first shoulder-induced absence, a double-hundred against Hampshire and century in that clash with Nottinghamshire showed how much Surrey had missed one of the outstanding performers of the Championship-winning campaign in 2018.
Pope struggled against the Indian spinners, making just 153 runs at 19, and concedes that coming home was a boon for more than just cricket reasons.
“The Indian bubble was a pretty tough one.
“They were quite business-like hotels, so there’s not a massive amount going on. There’s no real outdoor space to get used to, have a runaround of kick a ball around or anything normal.
“Being back and strolling to go and get a coffee or anything like that – it’s just that bit of normality that I think humans need, really. It does have its challenges and everyone deals with them in slightly different ways but it’s very nice to be out of those bubbles and free a little bit.”
Pope hopes that he will be able to lend a hand to county colleagues over the next weeks and months: “I like to think these guys look up to you a little bit because you’ve had the experiences in international and Test cricket.
“We’ve got a lot of good young batters that are coming through the ranks, so if I see anything in their technique and mindset I like to try to help out wherever I can.
“It’s a different role and something I’ll enjoy. In the England side we’re looking up to Joe Root, Ben Stokes and those guys who have played 100 Tests.
“It’s nice to be seen as a senior figure and have that leadership role off the pitch. I’ve drawn a lot of experiences from them, so I’d like to help out the youngsters and the other guys wherever I can here.”
All Pope is asking for now is a clear run after his injury woes and he’s optimistic the problems are behind him: “I was diving around in India without really thinking about it, which was good, so it should hopefully not pop out of position again. I hope there will be no more surgery and I can dive and do everything I need to do with it.
“I’m really excited to be back at Surrey.”