The 22-year-old Ollie Pope hit his maiden Test century and walked off unbeaten on 135, with England having piled on the runs at St George’s Park. He even capped it off by taking a smart catch at short leg.
Following such a landmark innings, Pope could be forgiven for taking a moment to look back and see how far he has come even just over the last few months.
A shoulder injury at the start of last summer significantly hampered his chances of playing in the Ashes and Pope admitted at that time he had no idea how far away he was from the England team.
He had been given his Test less than a year before but was hauled out after just two games, with a top-score of 28 after three innings. The message was clear: his time would come but patience was needed.
Pope got over the shoulder injury and was back scoring runs for Surrey in no time and although he did not feature in the series, by the end of the Ashes, it was clear he was seen as central to England’s plans to try and regain the urn in Australia.
On Friday in Port Elizabeth he showed exactly why.
In truth, the signs have been there for some time. Even putting aside his absurdly impressive numbers in county cricket, there was enough evidence in his brief international career to suggest Pope is a special talent.
That first hundred could have come against New Zealand in Hamilton, where he was going along very nicely and a three-figure score was there for the taking on the flattest of pitches. However, his selflessness led to him falling for 75 as England chased quick runs ahead of a declaration.
In Cape Town, he was left to shepherd the tail following a collapse. Again he was forced into one-day mode but this time he was rewarded with an unbeaten half-century.
Two excellent knocks for a young player making his way in international cricket but for a batsman, it is all about hundreds – and now he has got one.
Arriving at the crease with England 148-4 and in a spot of bother on the first evening, Pope showed all the composure of a veteran rather than a youngster in just his sixth Test as he batted with great fluency, outscoring Ben Stokes to take the tourists out of trouble and through to stumps.
That calm is now a feature of his batting. For all his talent, when he first came in against India, he was frenetic. Not anymore. No matter the situation, and it varied throughout his innings, Pope remains unflustered, assessing his options and more often than not choosing the right one.
On the second morning, he was able to pick up where he had left off the previous evening, serenely moving the score along, and once Stokes started to motor, there was no panic or thought that maybe he should be doing the same.
As he found himself with the tail again, the party tricks come out again. Even with Kagiso Rabada steaming in and banging the ball in short at 90mph, Pope was unfazed, responding with back-to-back reverse ramps for four. Even Stokes, watching from the England balcony, was shaking his head in disbelief.
Even as Pope removed his helmet to celebrate his first international ton, ‘the first of many’ was being uttered by the watching hordes. It feels oddly inevitable.
Sam Curran’s fine cameo and a couple of wickets for Dom Bess before the close, not to mention another brilliant hundred from the far more established Stokes, are part of that but, of the younger contingent, it is Pope for whom expectations are highest. (Sky)