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Cricket’s Next Generation: Ollie Pope at the forefront of England’s future batting stars

Cricket’s rich history is dotted with legends who have left a lasting legacy on the sport. Through their performances with the bat, ball or both in several cases, these players have risen head and shoulders above their contemporaries to achieve greatness.

For some like Sir Don Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar, the talent was undeniable from the moment they stepped on the cricket field as a rookie. Meanwhile, others such as James Anderson, Virat Kohli and Younis Khan have honed their skills over the years to ultimately transform into extraordinary players.

Many youngsters, meanwhile, have promised plenty in their early years before fading into obscurity or mediocrity. As such, it is never easy to predict the career trajectory of young players entering the game, no matter how talented they might be.

While there is no telling where their careers will ultimately lead, there is nothing more exciting than watching fresh talents announcing their arrival in cricket.

In this series, we take a look at some of the most exciting cricketers around the world who are aged 23 or below. As its status as the inventor of the game, England are no strangers to producing quality youngsters through their excellent domestic system.

ZAK CRAWLEY

zak

Age: 22

Role: Right-handed batsman

Strengths: Excellent against pace, good with the pull and cut shots

Similar to: Jonny Bairstow

With first-class and List A averages of 31.95 and 35.38, Zak Crawley’s numbers don’t exactly scream world beater. However, he occupies arguably the toughest spot in the batting order and one which England have desperately needed some quality in for some time now.

That he was picked for England’s tour of New Zealand last year despite those unflattering numbers speaks volumes about the respect Crawley has already earned. His Test debut in New Zealand didn’t further his credentials by any means, but he followed it up with some quality showings against a formidable South Africa pace attack.

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Crawley’s resilient displays on the South African tour won him many admirers, with his fighting fifty in Johannesburg typifying his class with the bat. He is particularly strong against pace bowling and can cut and pull with precision.

Since the retirements of Andrew Strauss and later Alastair Cook, England have struggled to find quality openers for the Test squad. Crawley’s emergence, along with that of Dom Sibley, seems to have ended their misery for now with both batsmen showing they belong to the international level.

Like Marnus Labuschagne has shown with Australia, first-class numbers are not everything when it comes to determining a batsman’s true potential. If Crawley can continue his upward trajectory for England in the coming months, then he could yet bring up those numbers to a higher level.

OLLIE POPE

Pope

Age: 22

Role: Right-handed batsman

Strengths: Vast range, good cover drive and strong off the pads

Similar to: Joe Root

Though England are suddenly experiencing a flood of batting talent coming through the ranks, it is Ollie Pope’s name which burns the brightest.

The Surrey youngster was handed a Test debut against India in 2018 after making just 15 first-class appearances and didn’t exactly come as a surprise. Although he didn’t really set the stage alight with his displays in that series, Pope’s promise was clear to see.

His next Test appearance didn’t come until the New Zealand tour last year, but Pope did lead Surrey to a County Championship title with a sparkling individual campaign in 2018.

Despite sustaining a shoulder injury in the period, the right-handed batsman has managed to return as strong as ever and is now well on his way to become an England Test regular. His displays in New Zealand, and more recently South Africa, are testament to the potential England’s selectors saw in him in 2018.

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Two fifties, and an accomplished ton in Port Elizabeth in England’s tour of South Africa has cemented Pope’s place in the middle-order. A compact technique honed on the swinging county circuit pitches is what Pope brings to the table for England. He has long been hailed as England’s best upcoming batsman since Joe Root, and it will be a surprise if he doesn’t kick on to have an illustrious career.

TOM BANTON

TomBanton

Age: 21

Role: Right-handed batsman

Strengths: Timing, unorthodox shots like the reverse sweep and scoop

Similar to: Jos Buttler

Amid England’s newfound batting riches in the Test format, Tom Banton is carrying the flag high for their white-ball future.

The tall top-order batsman caught everyone’s attention with a stellar 2019 domestic season which propelled him towards an England T20I debut in the same year. With a flamboyant style reminiscent of Jos Buttler, Banton’s superb displays for Somerset in the T20 Blast earned him the Young Player of the Year award from the Professional Cricketer’s Association (PCA).

The right-hander has an array of unorthodox cricketing shots in his arsenal, including a hockey-style reverse hit and scoop. His opening partnership with Pakistan’s Babar Azam for Somerset worked a treat with both players bringing the best out of each other in a stellar campaign.

Banton has since been awarded three England ODI caps and as many T20I appearances, although he is yet to sparkle on the international stage. He is already proving to be an in-demand player in various franchise T20 leagues around the globe and has already participated in the PSL and Big Bash League.

The talent is clearly there in Banton, but he desperately needs a breakthrough display at the international level if he wants to turn into a world beater.

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