Ollie Pope is confident he can continue his early form into the domestic season – and push for an England recall by the time the Aussies limber up for the Ashes later this summer – all while helping Surrey do their level-best to maintain their place at the top of the English game.
Pope began the season with a sizeable bang, smashing a double hundred against the MCC in Dubai and reaffirming his position as the man most likely to be called upon if a batting slot does become available for an Ashes Test series that promises to be as competitive as any since 2005.
And such is the competition for places at Surrey at the moment that even a practise session at the Oval could be seen as the ideal preparation for the battles that lie ahead.
“I’ve just come out of a net this morning and I was facing Rikki Clarke, Tom Curran, (Jade) Dernbach – the amount of fast bowlers and seamers we had coming in meant it was a really spicy net,” he says.
“It was relentless having to face all those guys. We could almost put three ridiculous bowling attacks out if everyone was fit.
“That’s a great thing for us to have, and I think that’s what we did really well last year.
“When there was an injury or an England call-up, then whoever came in performed really nicely and put their hand up for the team.
“And that’s a massive reason for us winning the Championship, it’s never down to two or three individuals, it’s always a squad effort. That’s credit to the strength in depth with got in the side.”
It’s that kind of pressure that drives on the likes of Pope, who knows that a lean trot might not just cost him a shot at England, it could also see him duck out of Surrey’s plans for a time too.
That said, his performances since breaking into the team suggest that any struggles in the middle are likely to be minor blips rather than anything more terminal.
And if he needs any additional incentive or motivation, all he has to do is turn on the TV and watch the likes of Sam Curran – his Surrey team-mate and a recent indictee into Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year – perform in the Indian Premier League.
“I was watching it live (Curran’s recent IPL hat-trick) and it was phenomenal spell of bowling and a game-changing performance – which is what he does so well for Surrey and so well for England,” says Pope.
“It’s awesome to see him go so well in the IPL and dealing with that price tag and the pressure he has had on him just shows the kind of player he is.
“A large part of that is through the confidence that the coaching staff have in us and the commitment they have to giving young players a chance here.
“That’s a massive thing for us, but we’ve also got these players like Morne Morkel, Finchy (Aaron Finch) and (Kumar) Sangakarra.
“They almost downplay every situation a little bit which eases the pressure on the rest of us and allows us to perform as well as we can do.”
The latest graduate from what must now be seen as the most successful academy in world cricket, is Jamie Smith, who announced his arrival as a Brown Cap by scoring a century against an MCC attack that included Stuart Broad and also Dom Bess, who like Pope played two Tests last summer.
That innings suggests that there is plenty more to come from him as back-up should, if as expected, Jason Roy disappear for the majority of the summer on England duty.
“You saw the confidence in the youngsters here with Jamie Smith in the MCC match in Dubai,” says Pope.
“He scored a hundred, made an impact on debut and that was just amazing for us all to see. He’s a lovely strokeplayer, he has really shown us what he can do with that knock.
“The way he played one of England’s best bowlers (Stuart Broad) the other week, was awesome to watch.”
Pope’s own double century wasn’t bad either, with his straight and cover driving an absolute delight, often in surprisingly gloomy Dubai conditions. With an average well in excess of 50, Pope has set the bar incredibly high since making his bow against Oxford MCCU in March 2017.
And even though he didn’t set the world alight with the Lions this winter, he still believes his time with England’s second string can have a first-class impact this season.
“I’ve had some really experiences this winter,” he says.
“I’ve played in lots of different conditions and I feel as though I’m in a really good place at the moment.”