Cape Town – Prior to the start of the series which began in scintillating fashion at Lord’s on Wednesday all the talk was about how the Proteas’ bowlers would counter England’s “Bazball” batters, and in particular the in-form Jonny Bairstow and former captain Joe Root.
Both were dealt with in emphatic fashion, particularly Bairstow who had his middle-stump up-rooted by a 150-km/h express delivery from Anrich Nortje.
However, South Africa’s pre-game analysis had hopefully not forgotten to include England’s young top-order batter Ollie Pope.
The 24-year-old’s overall career Test record of 1370 runs at a meagre average of 31.30 does not suggest that he is someone that poses any particular threat to the Proteas.
Even more so now that he has moved up the order to the crucial No 3 position, especially considering the fallibility of England’s opening pair.
But through closer examination, it will be best remembered that Pope, then having just turned 22, was a colossal presence in England winning a successive Test series on South African soil back in 2020.
He struck an undefeated 61 in the first innings of the New Year Test at Newlands during that series, which allowed England to take an all-important innings lead that ultimately led to a series-equalling 189-run victory.
But the Surrey starlet only grew in stature as the series progressed with a brilliant 135 not out in the next Test at St George’s Park, before following it up with another half-century at the Wanderers.
He also took six catches in Gqeberha for good measure, which included a couple of spectacular grabs at short-leg off Dom Bess.
Pope’s appetite for the Proteas’ bowling attack continued on the opening day at Lord’s where he played a lone-hand, while the impressive seam attack of the visitors ran through his teammates at the other end.
He played with conviction and committed to his strokes, not allowing any opportunity to pass him by, with a couple of uppercuts over the slip cordon and authoritative front-foot drives punctuating his innings.
Pope was on 61 not out when thunderstorms brought play to an early close, but he now already has 327 runs at an average of 109 against South Africa.
The Proteas will hope to see the back of Pope early on day two, for he has the potential to be a thorn in their side as the series progresses.