Surrey batsman Ollie Pope in fight to be fit for first Test against India this week amid doubts over England’s underperforming top order
- Ben Stokes will miss the first Test after taking an ‘indefinite break’ from the game
- Pope is battling to take his place in the England batting line-up at Trent Bridge
- The batsman suffered a thigh injury playing Twenty20 cricket for Surrey
Ollie Pope is still battling to take his place in the fragile batting line-up which England hope can stand up to India’s formidable attack when Test cricket creeps back to Trent Bridge this week.
The start of a marquee series England desperately need to win has barely registered amid the hype and hysteria of a new toy — the Hundred — which the ECB cannot afford to fail.
But the moment of truth for an England side badly beaten in India last winter and then by New Zealand earlier this summer arrives on Wednesday. Doubts linger over their underperforming top order.
Ollie Pope is still battling to take his place in the fragile England batting line-up at Trent Bridge
First England lost talisman Ben Stokes, partly as a consequence of an unremitting schedule that will claim more victims unless cricket eases the demands on its best players.
Now they are waiting to see if one of their brightest young lights can resume his stuttering attempt to prove he is England’s next great batsman.
‘A decision is still to be made,’ said Pope on the thigh injury he suffered playing Twenty20 cricket for Surrey. ‘I’ve been hitting a lot of balls and trying to do as much running as I can. I’m still feeling it a bit but nothing major.
‘I’m hopeful but it will be up to the physio and management to manage the risk. It’s trying to make sure that if I do play in this one it won’t create issues for the next four Tests.’
Pope has been troubled by a thigh injury and is being assessed by England’s medical staff
If he does make it, Pope will be in urgent need of a score after 18 months punctuated by injury, notably two operations on his shoulder, and underachievement culminating in only 84 runs in two Tests against New Zealand.
And he will attempt to do so sticking with the fashionable but controversial stance, taking guard on off-stump, which he originally adopted to try to correct a habit of nicking the ball to the slips.
‘When I first played, people said I should stand a little further across and it would help me leave the ball,’ said Pope. ‘Then, when I did, I was hit on the pad and suddenly I was standing too far across. You have to be stubborn and work out what’s best for you. I averaged 60-odd for Surrey earlier this season batting this way against international bowlers, so there’s some sort of method to it. Everyone has their opinions, but you have to know your game better than anyone.’
England practised in Nottingham still coming to terms with the absence of Stokes, who is taking an indefinite break from the game to protect his mental health and allow his badly broken left index finger to fully recover. He has, as usual, left a huge hole.
‘We look at Stokesey as a real macho fighter of a character,’ said Pope at Trent Bridge. ‘And he is. But this shows how mentally straining cricket and sport at the highest level can be. Being away from family in a bubble does make that tougher.
‘We all support him one hundred per cent and would love to have him back as soon as we can, but I think mental health is much more important than a game.’
Ben Stokes will take an indefinite break from England duty to prioritise his mental wellbeing
England were last night clarifying what Covid-related restrictions remain in their ‘controlled team environment’ that has replaced strict biosecure bubbles for the five Tests, due to be played in front of capacity crowds.
Even though they will be allowed to go for walks and play golf when they are not training, the players will not be permitted to venture out of their hotel to restaurants.
‘It’s tough but we are finding ways of dealing with these things better,’ said Pope. ‘Last summer and in India it was incredibly strict and I spent too much time in my room watching Netflix and playing Xbox.
‘But we’re finding ways of trying to make the experience just a bit more enjoyable and that will hopefully help us on the pitch, too.’