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Ollie Pope takes Kohli orders in bid to come again with England

Ollie Pope plays a drive Getty Images

Pro tip (or perhaps not): There are certain questions with obvious answers. Especially to a young batsman, who's watched Virat Kohli at his best from a few yards away, battering a world-class bowling attack and making match-winning scores of 97 and 103, you simply do not ask which modern cricketer he looks up to.

"I usually don't try and copy other players, but one player I wouldn't mind is Kohli, to be honest," says Ollie Pope, the twice-capped England batsman who is currently on tour in India with the Lions.

A Test debut at Lord's at just 20 can be overwhelming, especially when you've been asked to bat at No. 4 - opposite Kohli, no less - and you're up against the No. 1-ranked side. For Pope, who lived that dream, the experience was "surreal". England won the second Test against India last summer, and he was reveling in his memorable debut.

But things dramatically turned around in the next few weeks. Two low scores in England's loss in the third Test at Trent Bridge saw him out of the side. He admits to having been caught in a whirlwind of emotions, but says that experience only helped him understand his game better.

"I sort of experienced the ups and the downs within two weeks of cricket, which has actually put me in good stead for the future. It doesn't really get bigger than that," Pope says. "The Test series was a good way of me understanding what sort of a player I was. Mentally I felt I coped with all of that pretty well."

Trent Bridge was where he witnessed Kohli at his finest. "I think the way he played there [in Nottingham], it was awesome to play against him and see him first-hand," Pope says. "The way he stood outside his crease when he batted and tried to negotiate the swing. He was who I enjoyed watching, and I learnt a lot from him."

While Pope won a Test call-up after his outstanding form for Surrey in the County Championship, for someone with just 15 first-class games under his belt - and batting in a position he had never filled before in first-class cricket - it was a remarkably rapid leap. Pope also toured along with the Test party to Sri Lanka late last year, but was released midway through to join the England Lions squad to play Pakistan, as Ben Foakes' impressive performance on debut in Galle limited his chances.

England's up-and-down Test form has taken another turn in the West Indies, with Foakes now out of the side, and Pope will doubtless be on the radar. However, he has been in middling form for the Lions in the series against Pakistan in the UAE, as well as in the ODIs against India A in Thiruvananthapuram, where he has been floating around the batting order.

"It actually doesn't matter if I bat at No. 6 or No. 4," he says. "The game against Yorkshire last season, we were about 60 for 4 and I'd come in at No. 6. The ball was still a bit new but I didn't feel much of a difference. And later in the season I went in for Surrey at No. 4 and did well there as well. The only thing I'm focused on is that I try not to play too many shots early on and sort of try and play just technically correct innings. So I don't let the position I play affect my game."

Mention of playing "too many shots early on" brings to mind the senior team, who have faced criticism for their aggressive approach in Test cricket after defeat in the Caribbean. It is tempting to ask if Pope is cut from the same cloth.

Rewind to the second innings at Trent Bridge. Pope started by driving an inswinger to the boundary and continued to play with hard hands thereafter. While he may have been better served playing with caution against the swinging ball, with England at 62 for 3 in pursuit of 459 to win - and having lost their captain, Joe Root, the previous over - Pope was dismissed driving impatiently at a wide delivery, which resulted in an edge that Kohli grabbed at the slips.

But his approach has changed a lot since then, he says.

"I played an average shot in one of the innings to get out at Nottingham. And that was because I was playing one too many attacking shots. But now, I'd very much happy to be 5 off 30 balls, so I try to play depending on how well the opposition are, I let the situation dictate how I play, that's probably what I've learnt over winter. And last summer, the times I got myself out I felt I was too attacking at times. So now I've actually learnt the difference between attack and defence."

England's No. 4 spot is now back in the possession of Root, who is like Kohli a source of inspiration for Pope.

"I tried to speak to Joe Root as much as I could when I was in the England dressing room. I feel I sort of play fairly similar game to him, especially the shot selections I make. I feel he is the best person for me to learn off in situations. I look to go about things in the same sort of way like him when I'm batting so I try to pick his brains as much as possible."

And then there is the former great who helped shape Pope. He recounts his county experience batting alongside Kumar Sangakkara, who played for Surrey until his retirement in 2017 and would provide instant tips at the crease.

"Sanga was the perfect person for me to learn from," he says. "It's a shame that I got to play just one season with him.

"When you're batting with him, he almost coaches you through. He immediately tells you when you go wrong. I remember I played against Somerset and I was facing Dom Bess. I was batting with Sanga. I actually played a few average shots. He just came down and told me to forget about the fielders and hit the ball back where it came from, not worry about the gaps. I then batted a lot better. It's these small things - he was just so good at watching you from the other end and immediately telling what you should be doing. He is a humble man who knows a lot more than just cricket."