Ollie Pope: England Test debutant never flinched against bully bowlers

OLLIE POPE was a tiny teenager who never took a backward step when bigger boys tried to intimidate him with fast bowling.

As Pope, 20, prepares for his Test debut Thursday, his rise to the brink of international stardom is tracked by the brother of England legend Alec Stewart.

 Surrey starlet Ollie Pope is preparing to make his England Test debut

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Surrey starlet Ollie Pope is preparing to make his England Test debut

Neil Stewart has been coaching Surrey’s age-group batsmen for almost two decades and reckons Pope has the talent and temperament to thrive at the top level.

One shot played by Pope as a 14-year-old will forever be seared into Stewart’s memory.

He recalled: “I remember Popey coming on tour to Cape Town with the academy players. He was the youngest on the trip, around 14, and we were playing a game in nearby Paarl.

“There were some very good young players involved but he drove his very first ball through extra cover for four. I thought, ‘Bloody hell.’ You remember certain shots and that was one of them.”

 The batsman was never intimated as a teenager, reveals his former youth coach

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The batsman was never intimated as a teenager, reveals his former youth coach

Pope has been in the Surrey system since he was aged just nine. Stewart first saw him when he was 12 and worked regularly with him through the county’s academy from the age of 13.

Stewart said: “I don’t know how much you know, but Ollie was a tiny lad. He probably didn’t get a fifty for Surrey until he was 15 or 16. He was tiny but he could time the pants off the ball. And brave.

“Some of the small lads get a bit gun shy against the quicker bowlers, but he took them on. He’s a good cutter and puller and, even though he was small, he could still find the boundary with pure timing.

“We always knew he was a good player and a really good kid. There was never a problem with him. He practised, took everything on board and just got on with it. He had all the talent in the world.

 Pope, 20, trained at Lord's with the rest of the England squad on Tuesday

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Pope, 20, trained at Lord's with the rest of the England squad on Tuesday

“Once he got a bit stronger, he was going to shine. From 16, 17 onwards, he became a very high-class batter and he’s a decent ‘keeper, too.”

Pope is taking inspiration from his close friend Sam Curran’s man of the match performance in England’s 31-run win in the First Test at Edgbaston.

And Stewart sees similarities in the pair’s characters.

He explained: “They’ve both done brilliantly. They are similar guys in the way they go about things. They just get on with it, both competitive with so much talent. And they want to learn.

Happy birthday old boy x

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Oval

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“Just like Sam, Popey won’t be fazed playing for England. He’ll be excited, really looking forward to getting out there. He’s that sort of kid. There will be nerves, bound to be, but he won’t be fazed. He won’t feel that he shouldn’t be there and he will expect to do well.

“For a lovely bloke, top-quality kid, Popey has a steely determination and inner confidence. He won’t take any rubbish off people but he’ll do it in a very pleasant way – exactly like Sam.

“Sam played his first game for Surrey at 15 after coming over from Zimbabwe and Popey was captain. They hit it off straightaway and have been big mates ever since. They’ve played a boatload of cricket together.”

OLLIE POPE was a tiny teenager who never took a backward step when bigger boys tried to intimidate him with fast bowling.