Sport Meet Ollie Pope, Welsh Fire's new poster-boy ready to set The Hundred alight and spark a cricket revolution in Wales

16:55  11 october  2020
16:55  11 october  2020 Source:   walesonline.co.uk

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England batsmen Ollie Pope and Rory Burns switch teams for The Hundred next summer, as the first batch of men' s and women' s players are confirmed. Welsh Fire , however, were without a centrally contracted Test player after wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow lost his deal. They were therefore able to

Welsh Fire - Katie George and Ollie Pope . Katie George in action for Western Storm during the Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Trophy match. " The Hundred is hugely important to the ongoing growth of the women' s game, from both a performance and profile perspective.

Ollie Pope is one of the most exciting talents in world cricket.

Over the last two years, the 22-year-old has garnered praise from every corner of the globe for his silky strokemaking and easy-on-the-eye technique, racking up 645 runs in his first 13 Test matches for England.

But while he has shot into the wider public's conscious donning the England whites, next year he will become an adopted Welshman in the red Welsh Fire jersey in the inaugural The Hundred competition.

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Surrey' s much-vaunted batsman Ollie Pope will make his Test debut for England in the second Test Pope has made a name for himself in the County Championship this season, playing a major part in Sky Sports' Rob Key: "You never know if they're ready . We're often worried about throwing in these

England' s Jonny Bairstow, who will play for Welsh Fire , consults with his head coach Gary Kirsten during the draft. The Hundred Draft was held in London on Sunday evening. Trent Rockets coach Stephen Teams will play each other once, apart from their paired 'rivals', whom they meet twice

For this week it was announced that Pope will become the Fire's marquee signing, replacing Jonny Bairstow after it was announced he will not be offered a central contract by England next year.

Classy middle-order batsman Pope was originally committed to Southern Brave, the Southampton-based team, but after both he and Jofra Archer were offered England contracts, one of them had to leave.

It means Welsh Fire are now getting one of the brightest prospects in the English game and, looking at the squad which was originally assembled in the original player draft back in October last year, Pope believes the Cardiff-based side have the stardust within their ranks to challenge right at the very top.

"I'm very excited!," he told WalesOnline. "I didn't spend a long time with Southern Brave, but that's alright. Unbeaten record!

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Ollie Pope has made three hundreds and a fifty in eight County Championship games for Surrey this season. England v India, second Specsavers Test. Pope bats at six for his county, although he made an unbeaten 50 at number five for England Lions against India in the tour match at New Road before

Conversely, Welsh Fire ' s contracted player was Jonny Bairstow, who could lose his England deal. The contracted players can also opt of playing in The Hundred , like James Anderson and Stuart Broad did in How to get into cricket - the thrill of the big hit, the rush of taking the catch, the skill of bowling.

"But Welsh Fire, I remember looking at it and thinking the Southern Brave were a strong side but Welsh Fire looked the next strongest, if not the strongest, so I'm very excited to be a part of it.

"There are some great names in that squad."

Pope, alongside the likes of Zak Crawley, has been tipped to prop up the middle order of England's Test side for the next 10 years or so.

His aesthetically-pleasing cover drive has drawn comparisons with the textbook-style of Ian Bell, which he takes as a big compliment, and the maturity with which he speaks certainly belies his 22 years.

Notwithstanding having been thrust very much into limelight in a somewhat meteoric rise, though, Pope is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.

"Being in that [England] changing room, things change quickly," he says. "You put in a few good performances and the next thing you know you're being talked about as the next big thing.

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Welsh Fire : Jonny Bairstow, Tom Banton, Colin Ingram; Katie George, Bryony Smith. Why create a new competition when England are one-day world champions and attendances at this summer’ s The Hundred will feature men’ s and women’ s competitions running concurrently next summer.

Jonny Bairstow of Welsh Fire shares a joke with Kem Cetinay, winner of reality TV show Love Island England ponder second Test selection with Pope and Leach back in frame. The Hundred feels, at this point, like a good fit for Brexit Britain, because while we may well have spent the last two years

"When these nice things get written about you, it's nice, but you can't let it get to your head as well.

"We are surrounded by some very big players, amazing players, some of the greats of the game are within that Test changing room. You are always grounded, if you do well you get a sniff of success and want more.

"If you look at what some of the guys in that changing room have achieved, it brings you back down to earth and makes you realise, 'Jeez, you've got a long way to go if you want to be as good as those guys one day.'"

a man holding a baseball bat: Ollie Pope celebrates scoring a century for England against South Africa back in January © Getty Images Ollie Pope celebrates scoring a century for England against South Africa back in January

Those big names of course include the swashbuckling Ben Stokes, big-hitting white-ball supremo Jos Buttler, Test captain Joe Root and rapid paceman Jofra Archer, all of whom Pope will come up against when the competition kicks off next summer.

But Welsh Fire, as things stand, have a number of exciting cricketers already lined up in their own roster.

To jog the memory, the Fire selected the likes of Australian duo Steve Smith, who was named captain, Mitchell Starc and Somerset and England sensation Tom Banton in the initial draft.

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Jonny Bairstow will be part of Welsh Fire in the Hundred . The little cricketing hiatus seems to be over. We can tell that is the case because the admirable and ubiquitous Isa Guha is back Meanwhile, England are in New Zealand, where the intrepid Ali Martin should be landing about now, and under

Watch The Hundred Draft again via BBC iPlayer and relive all the reaction as it happened. Southern Brave sign Russell; Superchargers go for Finch; Welsh Fire select Starc & Smith. Right, thanks for joining us - we'll be back for the T20 series against New Zealand in a couple of weeks.

The Welsh outfit can also choose to retain Bairstow, but it would most likely mean one of Smith or Starc would have to be released in order to make room in that top £100,000 bracket, in which only two picks are allowed.

There are also further complications pertaining to Kolpak players, who will not be permitted in English cricket next season, with the UK having left the EU. Therefore those players will likely have to be classified as overseas players, of which there are only three slots available in each squad.

Colin Ingram, Simon Harmer, Leus Du Plooy, Ryan Ten Doeschete and Ravi Rampaul could all be impacted in the Welsh Fire squad.

So Welsh Fire, headed up by coach Gary Kirsten, have a three-month window in which they must decide who they want to keep. They have until the end of January to finalise their retained list.

It's all rather complicated at present, but as things stand, Surrey-product Pope, now the only confirmed player, is most certainly the poster boy for Welsh Fire.

"It's something you take pride in," he says. "I'm sure when the big dogs like Steve Smith and Mitchell Starc arrive, those kind of characters, you won't necessarily feel like a poster boy!

"But it's a big honour for us lads to be able to represent a different side.

"I love playing at Surrey, but this is obviously a different competition, a different franchise, and I'm just lucky I don't have to play against Surrey!

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"But it's certainly something I take a lot of pride in."

The inception of The Hundred was borne of trying to once again raise the profile of cricket in this country and go one further than other franchise tournaments across the globe, such as the Indian Premier League or Australia's Big Bash League.

It is another move to introduce more people to cricket in this country and a bid to take a greater slice of the pie in such a competitive marketplace.

Cricket is embroiled in a constant battle with rugby and football in this part of the world, with the Lions tour to South Africa due to take place next summer and the football transfer window seeming to dominate the summer headlines, too.

But Pope, who is currently recovering from shoulder surgery, believes that The Hundred, and Welsh Fire, can help to further ignite interest in the game in this part of world and really continue to drive participation numbers up.

"Cricket is growing quickly in England, last summer did wonders for that, the participation levels have gone up a fair bit with Ben Stokes winning that Ashes Test and England winning the World Cup," he says.

"There is no reason why a similar sort of thing couldn't happen in Wales and it could grow pretty quickly.

"We are competing with those other big sports, but it would be great if the Welsh Fire could help to grow the sport, there is no reason it shouldn't, and it might help people get behind the side and watch the side grow.

"If we can have some success and hopefully win the tournament, hopefully a lot of Welsh fans will get behind that and help the participation levels in Wales."

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Pope is familiar with Wales. He holidayed down in Pembrokeshire as a child and regularly visited his grandparents, who don't live too far away from there.

He loves the city of Cardiff and is a big fan of Sophia Gardens itself, because you can "chip it for six" with the short straight boundaries.

Next year, too, is a landmark one for cricket in Wales.

Glamorgan, the only Welsh professional team, will celebrate its 100th year as a First-Class county.

So, the county's centenary will coincide with the inception of a brand new team in Welsh Fire and Pope says he is excited to be at the forefront of what promises to be a big year.

From a personal standpoint, though, he has his sights set on impressing in the white-ball game and forcing his way into England's one-day and T20 sides and hopes his performances for Welsh Fire can act as a springboard for that.

England, of course, are reigning one-day world champions after that astonishing World Cup victory on home soil in 2019.

While Pope believes it might be tough to break into the fray, his white-ball record stands up to scrutiny and he certainly has the ability, too.

He hopes, though, that throwing himself into a new competition next year, surrounded by world-class coaches and players, will give him the added edge to become a three-format player for England.

"White-ball cricket is such an enjoyable part of the game," he says. "Sometimes, when you play a lot of Test cricket and First-Class cricket, it can be a tough grind.

"So sometimes it's nice to have a three-hour game of cricket and have a slog!

"I love playing that type of cricket and I'd love to be able to represent England in all three formats of the game. I see myself as an all-round cricketer.

"Fingers crossed, if I can keep putting in performances for Welsh Fire, for Surrey in white-ball cricket then I can put my name forward for a spot in that white-ball side at some point.

"It's a pretty set side, but it's something I'd love to do."

While sports struggle to convince the powers-that-be to allow supporters back into stadia, given the prevalence of coronavirus, there is still hope that by summer 2021 fans will be permitted to attend matches.

The Hundred, which was initially due to launch in 2020, was pushed back a year in the hope that fans will be allowed to attend for next year.

Pope admits that while playing for England this summer, he missed the buzz of the Barmy Army, spurring their team on during a lull.

And while it may seem a distant a dream with many hurdles to overcome between now and then, Pope hopes he will be striding out in front of a 16,000-capacity crowd at Sophia Gardens in the not-so-distant future.

"I'm very excited to be a part of it," he says.

"And fingers crossed we can get some crowds in by that time and be able to enjoy The Hundred with big crowds, which everyone needs."

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