Ollie Pope battling to be fit to face India amid doubts over underperforming England top order

Surrey batsman Ollie Pope battling to be fit for England’s first Test against India this week amid doubts over an underperforming top order…

  • Ben Stokes misses the first test after an ‘indefinite pause’ from the game
  • Pope fights to take his place in England’s batting lineup at Trent Bridge
  • The batsman suffered a thigh injury while playing Twenty20 cricket for Surrey

Ollie Pope is still fighting to take his place in the fragile batting formation England hopes can withstand India’s formidable attack when Test cricket creeps back to Trent Bridge this week.

The start of a string of big tents that England desperately needs to win has barely registered amid the hype and hysteria of a new toy – the Hundred – that the ECB cannot afford to miss.

But the moment of truth for an England squad that was badly beaten in India last winter and then by New Zealand earlier this summer will arrive on Wednesday. Doubts linger about their underperforming top order.

Ollie Pope still fighting to take his place in England’s fragile lineup at Trent Bridge

First England lost talisman Ben Stokes, in part as a result of a relentless schedule that will claim more casualties unless cricket eases the demands of its best players.

Now they wait to see if one of their brightest young lights can resume his stuttering effort to prove he’s England’s next great batter.

“A decision has yet to be made,” Pope said of the thigh injury he sustained playing Twenty20 cricket for Surrey. “I hit a lot of balls and tried to run as much as possible. I still feel it a little, but nothing serious.

“I’m hopeful, but it’s up to the physio and management to manage the risk. It’s trying to make sure that if I play in this, it won’t be a problem for the next four Tests.”

Pope suffers a thigh injury and is being assessed by England medical staff

Pope suffers a thigh injury and is being assessed by England medical staff

If he makes it, Pope will urgently need a score after 18 months punctuated by injuries, most notably two surgeries to his shoulder, and underperformance that culminated in just 84 runs in two Tests against New Zealand.

And he’ll try to do this by sticking to the fashionable but controversial stance, wary of off-stump, which he originally adopted to try and correct a habit of snagging the ball on the slips.

“When I first played, people told me to stand a little further across and that would help me get off the ball,” Pope said. “When I did, I was hit on the path and suddenly I was too far across. You have to be stubborn and figure out what’s best for you. I had an average of 60 for Surrey earlier this season hitting international bowlers this way, so there’s sort of a method for that. Everyone has their own opinion, but you must know your game like no other.’

England were still practicing in Nottingham to come to terms with the absence of Stokes, who is taking an indefinite break from play to protect his sanity and allow his badly broken left index finger to fully recover. He left a huge hole, as usual.

“We see Stokesey as a real macho fighter with character,” Pope said at Trent Bridge. ‘And he is. But this shows how mentally tough cricket and sport at the highest level can be. Being away from family in a bubble makes that more difficult.

“We all support him one hundred percent and would like to have him back as soon as possible, but I think mental health is much more important than a game.”

Stokes withdrew from the Test series against India, taking an 'indefinite break' from the game

In any case, he will miss the first two tests at Trent Bridge and Lord's to

Ben Stokes will take an indefinite break from his duty in England to prioritize his mental wellbeing

England has clarified what Covid-related restrictions remain in their ‘controlled team environment’ which has replaced the strict biosafe bubbles for the five tests, which will be played to capacity crowds.

Even though they are allowed to walk and play golf when they are not training, the players are not allowed to go to restaurants from their hotel.

“It’s hard, but we’re finding ways to do things better,” Pope said. “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 to make the experience just a little bit more fun and hopefully that will help us on the pitch too.”