As Ollie Pope walked out to bat at Lord’s for England on Saturday evening, Campbelltown-Camden club secretary, Jason Ellsmore reflected on the impact the lively 20-year-old had a world away in McDonald’s NSW Premier Cricket.
Busy from the outset batting at No.4, higher than Pope had ever batted for Surrey during his 15-match first class career, the compact right hander was trapped lbw for 28 in a Test against India dominated by bowlers with swing and seam after a long rain delay on the opening day.
The Ellsmore family housed Pope during his time with the Ghosts last season, and on a weekly basis, Jason had the privilege of watching his immense talent on show.
“You just knew from watching how much time this boy had, how focused he was … (everybody quietly thought) that this boy will play for England one day, but we didn’t think it would be so soon,” Ellsmore said about the latest Test debutant for England.
“When you score 994 runs across – that was including (Poidevin Gray) and all of First Grade – and he took 38 dismissals with the gloves, that was quite a reasonable addition to the side, which played a big part in the minor premiership that (the Ghosts) were involved in winning last year.”
“His three centuries were superb.”
Ellsmore said that off the field Pope was just as impressive.
“(He was) absolutely superb with the young keepers … (and) it was the way he went about training too. The way (he did) the extras,” he said.
“(It’s) 40 degrees and the rest of the group turn up to start Grade training and they see that Ollie has already done an hour of sprints (in the heat) and he’s dripping wet, before training has even started.”
Such was his impact on the people of the Macarthur region, Pope received a commendation in the NSW Parliament from Camden MP, and vice president of the Campbelltown-Camden club, Chris Patterson.
“He was the perfect role model … there was no heirs or graces (about him) or expectations to be treated any differently than any other person at the club.”
It also quickly became obvious that Pope was an absolute cricket tragic.
“Every day there was a cricket associated activity,” Ellsmore said.
“He loved the BBL.”
When he did get away from cricket though, Pope loved his golf.
“(He was) a very, very good golfer, plays off a handicap of about three,” he said.
However, this was a secret he didn’t want getting back to Surrey.
“He didn’t want me to tell anyone (what handicap he was playing off) because he played for 50 pounds a week against his mates at Surrey.”
“He said: “They’ve got me off about seven or eight (handicap) at home, I don’t want my handicap to drop.”
Ollie Pope being presented his maiden England Test cap on Friday by former England captain Alec Stewart.
Pope was one of three key recruits for the Ghosts in 2017/18, along with Philip Wells and Jarrad Burke, who came to the club after reaching the Belvidere Cup Grand Final with Bankstown the previous season.
Burke led the Ghosts throughout 2017/18 and his captaincy style certainly suited the way Pope approached his cricket, according to Ellsmore.
“Burke is an attacking captain, always looking for the wicket and that was in line with Ollie’s game,” he said.
“Likewise when he bats, Ollie is always looking to score, never looking to bat out time.”
On Friday night, Pope became the third English player that has plied his trade in the McDonald’s NSW Premier Cricket competition to have debuted for their country within the last 12 months, joining leg-spinner Mason Crane and opening batsman Mark Stoneman, who also played for the Ghosts in 2012/13 and more recently Bankstown.
Ellsmore said the addition of the English players to the Premier Cricket competition adds a special element.
“(I think the) majority of clubs enjoy hosting (the English players) and enjoy having them in their team.”
“I think our boys got a lot out of it too, not just Ollie, I think it just makes the dressing room that little bit more unique.”
“Our guys now all have a memory that “I played with Ollie Pope” or “I trained with Ollie Pope”.”
His entry into the Test arena has also had the subsequent effect of promoting the strength of NSW Premier Cricket worldwide.
“In one of the press conferences (in the lead-up to the Test match), (Ollie) spoke about the fact that he faced (Blues seamer) Trent Copeland … (and that has) given massive credibility to the Sydney (First Grade) competition.”
“Now most of England know it’s tough.”
The strong bond Pope developed with the Ellsmore family demonstrates how his character was just as special as his talent with bat in hand.
Ollie Pope with the Ellsmore family before he departed for England to prepare for the upcoming 2018 County Championship. Credit: Jason Ellsmore.
“Even if he didn’t play for England, he’d always be someone I’d stay strongly close to … Ollie rings me, my daughters still (keep in touch),” Ellsmore said.
The cricketing talent within the Ellsmore family with daughter Stephanie, a member of the NSW Metropolitan Under 18 squad, also meant Pope always had someone to talk to about cricket.
“When the girls were with him, they could talk cricket just as much as he wanted to talk cricket,” Jason said.
He went to BBL matches with the Ellsmore family and there was never any hesitation from Pope.
“The girls said (to him) “come on, we’ve got you a ticket,” (to which Pope replied) “Oh yeah great, I’m in.”
There was a conversation that Jason had at the Ellsmore family home which perhaps sums up the incredible story of Ollie Pope.
“I had a conversation with him … and I said to him: “Mate what are you going to do with yourself (apart from cricket), are you going to do some type of online computer course?
“Are you going to do something like a business course in the background or a bit of study at night while you’re at Surrey?”
To which Pope answered “No.”
“No?” Ellsmore said
“No.” Pope said. “I’m going to play for England.”