Ollie Pope is England's big hope and can start delivering on his promise in New Zealand
The batsman will get his chance in New Zealand after stunning season with Surrey
Last Updated: 28/09/19 3:30pm
By the time Joe Root made his England debut in Nagpur in 2012 he had already been earmarked as a player England could build around for years to come.
That might seem like a lot of pressure on a player who was just shy of his 22nd birthday at the time but, with Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell in the side, he came in at No 6 and was able to get to grips with international cricket from a slightly less pressurised position.
Root stayed at six for another couple of games before being promoted to No 5 for the final Test of a three-match series in New Zealand, stayed there for the two home Tests against the Black Caps that followed and, having scored his maiden century in the second of them, was promptly moved to the top of the order for the start of the 2013 Ashes series.
To go from middle-order debutant to Ashes opener in seven months is some ask for a young player but it is surely preferable to asking a 20-year-old, who has never batted inside the first 20 overs or come in higher than six in first-class cricket, to make his Test bow at No 4 in a team whose openers had been struggling and against the potent seam-bowling attack of the No 1 side in the world.
That is what was asked of Ollie Pope last summer.
He played two Tests against India, at Lord's and Trent Bridge, before he was taken out of the firing line. His three innings had been peppered with elegant shots, predominantly through the offside, but his determination to impose himself on the bowlers led to loose shots to wide deliveries and proved to be his downfall.
A year on, though, and Pope is back. The Surrey batsman has been named in the England squad for the two-Test series in New Zealand and that should excite England fans.
An average of 18 in two Tests might not seem particularly exciting but just about every other batting stat you can find on Pope most certainly is.
Let's start with the fact that Pope's first-class average is higher than any Englishman in the history of the game to have played 30 games or more. Or how about 561 runs at an average of over 80 in eight County Championship innings this season, including two hundreds - one of them a double - and two fifties. It could have been more but for a shoulder injury sustained early in the summer.
These are incredible numbers for any player, let alone a 21-year-old. Put the numbers to one side and focus on the aesthetics of his batting and you get a player who has been compared to both Root and Bell. Even if you have never seen him bat, that creates an image in your mind of a seriously classy player and, rest assured, Pope certainly is.
"I watched him bat in the nets the other day and I think he has a bit of Joe Root about him, that fluency of his movement. Michael Atherton has said similar, with a touch of Ian Bell too. That's a good combination to have."
Nasser Hussain on Ollie Pope in August 2018
It would have been easy for him to fade after being dropped by England, flaws in his approach having been highlighted at the highest level and county bowlers keen to exploit them. Instead, he returned to Surrey, was swiftly moved up to No 4 and, having refined and adapted his game, has piled on the runs.
The expectation was always that he would return to the international fold but rather than be weighed down by it, Pope has thrived and now gets his chance to cement his place in the England XI.
The 15 picked for New Zealand give England a whole range of options depending on how they want to structure their batting line-up, the only certainty seems to be that Rory Burns will open. Beyond that there are question marks over everyone - over where they will bat or whether they will play at all.
Jos Buttler has had the gloves returned to him and so is highly likely to bat at seven. But even if you take that as a given, the make-up of the five positions between Burns and Buttler is still anyone's guess.
The most likely top seven at present would see Dom Sibley partner Burns at the top, Joe Denly bumped down to three with Root in turn back in his favoured No 4 position, Ben Stokes at five and then Pope in at six, ahead of Buttler.
But it could just as easily be Root at three, Denly four, Pope five and Stokes at six. Or Denly could open again, Zak Crawley is another option at the top of the order and Sibley at three is not beyond the realms of possibility either.
You can speculate and rejig that top six or seven in your mind over and over again but however you work it, Pope is in there. He will know that, giving him two months to prepare himself for another crack at Test cricket.
In truth, though, whether he realised it or not, Pope has been preparing for this moment for years. Like Root before him, Pope has long been viewed as a future England star.
“Ollie understands his own game much more now, and you don’t see many innings of the quality of his double-hundred against Hampshire."
Surrey director of cricket Alec Stewart on Pope
The prospect of a middle-order of Root, Stokes and Pope, with Buttler to follow, is an enticing one. For so long England's batting order has had an 'Emperor's New Clothes' feeling about it in red-ball cricket: all the promise of runs but, Root aside, in reality there has not been many there.
Stokes stepped up spectacularly during the Ashes, while Buttler finished the summer well, leaving Jonny Bairstow as the fall guy as focus turns to building a side capable of regaining the urn in 2021/22, although he is a near-certainty to return to the squad before the winter is out.
Pope, though, represents the optimism of youth and a brighter future to come. He can add his boundless potential into a pot overflowing with the stuff in the England dressing room but the hope is that, unlike those that have come before, he can go on to fulfil it.
Anyone who has watched sport for more than five minutes will tell you that there is no such thing as a dead-cert, especially not at the highest level, but the stats tell you that Pope is as close as you can get.
England think so, it is up to Pope to prove them right.
Watch England's tour of New Zealand, which features five T20Is and two Tests, live on Sky Sports Cricket in November and December.