Will Jacks has to pause and think for a while to recollect Ollie Pope's reaction to being picked in the England Test squad. It was Sunday afternoon and Jacks was outside his house waiting for his Surrey teammate, Pope, to arrive so he could drive him to the T20 match against Essex at Chelmsford. But the minute Pope stepped out of the car talking on the phone, Jacks witnessed a facial impression that was incredibly peculiar.
Jacks and Pope have played cricket together since they were nine, but never had he seen such a reaction. "He looked in complete shock so I just asked, are you all right? What happened?" The reply came with a slight smirk "I've been called up into the England Test squad,"
"He simply couldn't believe it. He was totally not expecting it and it took a while to sink in," Jacks said. "He got the phone call as he was parking at my house, so I was pretty much the first person he told. I just congratulated him and he simply just stood there waiting for it to sink in."
For the duration of the drive to the ground at Chelmsford, the pair would barely get a chance to talk as Pope's phone rang continuously.
"He was constantly on the phone. First, he rang his parents, then the rest of his family, his friends and he was getting a lot of texts from all people that know him. It was actually great experiencing it first hand from so close."
As a kid and then in his teens, Jacks said Pope had always dreamt of playing for England. But according to the all-rounder, it was during the Under-17's Surrey campaign that Jacks realised his close friend's dream could turn into reality much sooner than later.
"I'm not sure what it was, but he just took his game to another level. I recall this game against Hampshire in the U-17's in a semi-final and Ollie was 60 not out at the end of the 47th over. After 50 overs, he finished on 110 not out... it was just amazing how crisply and purely he hit the ball. That was the defining innings that really got him pushed up through the U-19s and beyond."
Pope made his first-class debut in 2017 and has since accumulated 1012 runs at an average of 63.25, with four centuries. But in between his rise to the top through the Surrey system and the England Lions was the very successful grade season in Sydney.
The opportunity was with the Camden/Campbelltown or 'caam-ba-town' cricket club in south-west Sydney. It is a suburb that merges the harsh Australian outback with the metropolis. It is as contrasting as you can get from the centre of London. So, when a 20-year-old boy from a prestigious private school in London lands up in the suburb nearly 50 kilometres from the heart of Sydney, he is likely to feel a touch homesick and discordant, but not Pope.
"He fitted in really well and never complained about anything," said the club secretary Jason Elsmore, who accommodated Pope at his residence for five months.
What advice did he give the young man? "We had some really hot summers and he had never experienced such heat. So, I told him from the start to make sure to apply plenty of sunscreen, as you don't want to go back home sunburnt – the Aussie sun can be harsh especially here in Campbelltown, where temperatures soar above 40 quite regularly during the summer months," Ellsmore said.
By the end of it, Pope had gotten used to the scorching temperatures and importantly the bounce of the Australian pitches. He even managed to score a brilliant century against a St George Club bowling unit consisting of current Australian bowler Josh Hazlewood and Trent Copeland.
Graeme Smith, the head coach at the club, recalls how quickly young Pope adjusted to the conditions.
"I can't recall him missing a training session. He will always be the first one at training and he was so determined to improve his back foot game. Importantly, he was level-headed, even if he had success or failure," Smith said.
The hard work in the nets paid off for Pope as he accumulated nearly 1000 runs in grade cricket, an accomplishment that even earned him a mention in the local parliament.
So, apart from scoring runs, what was it that Pope really enjoyed in Australia? "I have to say the lack of traffic and the barbeque on Friday nights," Ellsmore said.
"I used to have the regional boys staying at our place on Friday and it was a ritual to have a barbeque in the backyard. Ollie used to love the prawns. He enjoyed having dinner outside, watching the Big Bash League on the television and taking cricket with the other boys," he added.
"It was like his pre-match ritual before the grade match on Saturday and it seemed to work," Elsmore said with a laugh.
Perhaps the England team might consider having a barbeque for Pope the night before the Test match. It might just lead to a triumphant debut.