Ollie Pope on Ian Bell, England's 'big dogs' and his bubble must-haves

By Callum MatthewsBBC Sport
Ollie Pope celebrates his century against South Africa
Pope scored his maiden Test century against South Africa in January

Trying to establish yourself on the international stage is hard enough, but trying to do it while being compared to a modern-day England great, and the ninth-highest Test run-scorer in your country's history, makes it that little bit more difficult.

Not that Ollie Pope minds.

The comparisons between Surrey's Pope and the recently-retired Ian Bell were drawn throughout this summer, including from Bell's former team-mate Kevin Pietersen.

"He reminds me of a young Ian Bell. I love his intensity," Pietersen enthused.external-link "He's a very good player, technically sound, defends nice and straight, and if he keeps his intensity up against the spinner, the sky's the limit."

It's hard to get away from the comparisons when you see Pope's elegant cover drive, or his almost effortless ability to latch onto length and rotate the strike with minimal fuss.

"I can only see it as a positive," Pope told BBC Sport. "Ian Bell was fantastic to watch but to be honest it's a lot more coincidence rather than me copying him.

"With it being my first proper home series, obviously I played in the winter, but my first proper home series where I got a good run, a lot more England fans were probably watching and made that comparison a little bit more."

It's been a busy 12 months for Pope. Having made his England debut in August 2018, the 22-year-old right-hander returned to the international fold when England toured New Zealand last winter and averages 42.21 in 11 Tests since.

Pope, though, knows he's "not the finished article" and admits he was "frustrated" by his "OK" summer, where he averaged 26.87 in six Tests against West Indies and Pakistan - series which England won.

"I probably would have liked another score or two," he said.

"If I got a score I probably would have been looking at things slightly differently, saying 'that was a good summer' so it was frustrating to get a couple of low ones at the end but there were some positives to take forward."

Pope is at the forefront of an exciting group of young players which is likely to form the backbone of the England Test side for the next decade.

After two or three years of inconsistent selection, England appear to have found a formula which works, and which could see them win the Ashes in Australia next winter, according to Michael Vaughan.

Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Dom Bess, Sam Curran and Jofra Archer are also relatively new additions to a youthful and relatively inexperienced side, which is complemented by - in Pope's words - "the big dogs" of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Joe Root.

"We sat down before the New Zealand series in the winter and just said 'we know it's going to be a bit of a rollercoaster with these young players in the side so there's going to be times where we probably don't get it quite right'," Pope said.

"But the consistency of the side over that winter and this summer has been really good to see.

"Us young lads look up to the guys who have played 100 Tests or more, they are the perfect guys for us to learn off. We're in pretty good hands."

England are building towards the Ashes in Australia at the back end of 2021 and Pope admits that series is "in the back of their mind".

"There's a big series against India in the summer and this winter so they are going to be the primary focus but I'm sure there will be work going on behind the scenes to prepare for the Ashes," he said.

"I'm sure we'll be doing a little bit of, maybe, left-arm quick stuff and a bit of extra pace in the background just to get ready for the Australia trip but I think the signs were good in South Africa last winter."

At the moment, Pope's days are filled with three hours of rehab, as he looks to recover from a second shoulder operation in as many years, but he's also keen to take time away from the game.

"I try to get out and about and get a coffee, but I'm getting a puppy in six days so that's going to be taking up a fair bit of my time," he says, with a huge smile on his face.

Pope is also spending his downtime by helping the London Cricket Trust. He recently attended a new net opening in Peckham Rye Park and says the work the Trust do is "massively important".

"The quality of the nets that are there, and the quality of the youngsters, most of them were 10 or 11, and they were seriously impressive," he said.

"They're not able to train and enjoy their cricket as much if they don't have the quality facilities that are provided by the London Cricket Trust so it's massively important in their development, and also in their enjoyment of cricket as well."

Pope expects international cricket to be played behind closed doors in bio-secure bubbles for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, what three things will he make sure are definitely part of his suitcase?

"The first thing is definitely the Xbox, that took a serious battering this summer," Pope laughs. "I think every player was playing on it every night.

"Then some good snacks, they are like gold dust.

"And if possible the coffee machine. I had my own, Chris Woakes had his, Stuart Broad had his, and Rory Burns. We almost set up our own little baristas in our hotel room.

"It was just a nice thing to do in the afternoons, the day before the game. It felt like we were almost outside the hotel and doing something different for a little bit."

But what snacks are top of the list?

"I've probably got to say protein bars, but, nah, the odd choccy biscuit and just some sweets," Pope said.

"Being in the bubble we've got some pretty good chefs, but they are cooking us some very healthy food so the odd cheat doesn't hurt anyone.

"It gives you that homely feel again, which is quite nice, but hopefully the nutritionist doesn't see it!"

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