Ollie Pope column: England's 'Big Dogs' and why my injury proved helpful
"I wouldn't say I am surprised I have gone well this winter as I feel I have the game to be successful at this level - but until you actually do it you are never sure"
By Ollie Pope - @OPope32
Last Updated: 10/03/20 12:55pm
Ollie Pope blogs on England's 'Big Dogs', his maiden Test ton, how injury helped him improve his game, and the challenges he will face on the tour of Sri Lanka…
It has been a pretty hectic start to the Sri Lanka tour with Tuesday our first real chance to rest and put our feet up ahead of two days training and then a four-day warm-up.
In the evenings, though, we have played a lot of XBox. One night there were about nine or 10 of us playing, each with our mics and headsets on. We spend a lot of time together during the day and then are chatting online in the evening!
We are, of course, sticking to the knuckle touches for now rather than handshakes, not just because of what is going on in the world but also because of the illness we had in South Africa. We are doing whatever we can to avoid illness ahead of this big series.
We completed our first warm-up on Monday, when the pitch started spinning more and more towards the end of the final day.
I don't think Sri Lanka wanted to give too much away as to what sort of pitches we will face in the Tests. Your guess is as good as ours, in a way!
The last time we toured here the boys won 3-0 on pitches that spun from the get-go so we will have to see if Sri Lanka change their tactics. We might not know until the morning of the first Test.
It was a pretty good wicket to bat on in the warm-up game and the main thing was getting miles in our legs and used to batting in this heat, as it is tough work.
When you got to 20 or 30 it would have been easy to lose concentration because you were sweating so much, so it was a good lesson for me and really helped me acclimatise.
This series will be a good challenge in terms of playing spin. I have toured the subcontinent before but haven't played on wickets that have spun massively, which could be the case here.
South Africa was a new challenge, facing a lot of 90mph bowling on some quick wickets, and this is another one, but I think I have a game that can deal with it. If it doesn't click straightaway, then, as a quick learner, I back myself to respond, as well as pick up stuff from other guys.
The Big Dogs
The standards and the template that the senior players - the Big Dogs, as we call them - set couldn't make it any easier for us youngster coming in.
If you want to speak about cricket with them or life off the field then they are there. You create great bonds within the group as everyone has massive respect for each other.
We have reached this level because we have been successful for our counties, so the culture is one of 'keep doing what you're doing'. If you need to adjust you might pick up a few things from the Big Dogs but the emphasis is on sticking with what works for you.
For us young lads, getting match-winning performances in early on is a massive confidence booster. It makes you feel even more part of the side, especially when there are so many big names.
Sam Curran has done it for a while but for the likes of Dom Bess, Dom Sibley and myself to make contributions in South Africa was huge for us.
I wouldn't say I am surprised that I have gone well this winter as I feel I have the game to be successful at this level - but until you actually do it you are never completely sure. It's a mental thing more than anything and you want to get that first score under your belt.
Unfortunately, I missed the first Test in South Africa through illness but since then I have felt confident and settled in the team.
I was definitely less nervous than when I made my debut against India in 2018. It was a case of 'okay, I have got those first couple of games out of the way and now know what comes with it'.
I knew all about the media hype and what it feels like waking up on the first morning of a Test match so I could deal with that better. I was more able to focus on my performance and going through the processes I would at Surrey, rather than just getting excited - not that I don't still get excited!
After my shoulder injury earlier last year, I felt a lot better player than I was before.
I was able to sit down with a few coaches, such as Vikram Solanki, who had spoken with Andy Flower on a Lions tour, and those guys helped me make a few technical adjustments.
I moved slightly across my stumps and so far that has stood me in good stead as my weakness before was probably that fifth-stump ball, especially when it is seaming around a little bit. That technical change has helped me bat for long periods.
I had only been playing professional cricket for three years when I got my injury but it had been a busy three years so the break helped be mentally, too, giving me a few months to reflect, get clarity on how to build big innings and become even hungrier to score big runs.
Reflecting on my first hundred in Port Elizabeth, as soon as I hit the ball, I remember thinking 'this might go for four' and thankfully it did. All these emotions ran through my body and I let out this big celebration. It was incredibly special.
Seeing how happy the other lads were for me was really special as well - knowing how much they wanted it for me. It really was what you dream of as a young lad. After making your debut, then, as a batter, you want to get a hundred and to do it was a great feeling. I look back on it with real enjoyment.
Sam Curran gave a speech afterwards - he has got a good way with words and I could tell how much he spoke from the heart.
I can't say I had a tear in my eye, but it was special for him to be making the speech as we have been through so much on and off the field. He has been one of my best mates since I was 14 so to be able to share an England dressing room with him means a lot.
I have also played a lot of second-team cricket with Sibbers [Dom Sibley] and made my Surrey debut with him in the side so it is nice to look back on memories you made when you were younger and be able to recreate them for England.
Watch England's two-Test series in Sri Lanka live on Sky Sports Cricket from 4am on Thursday, March 19.