09 December 2023

Ollie Pope ready to step up as captain if Ben Stokes unfit for India Test series

09 December 2023

Ollie Pope is primed to lead England if captain Ben Stokes is unable to recover for the beginning of their next Test assignment in India in the new year.

Stokes is in a race against time to be fit for the first of five Tests, starting on January 25 in Hyderabad, following an operation last month in a bid to resolve a longstanding left knee problem.

Even a slight setback in his rehabilitation might lead to a promotion for his deputy Pope, who admitted he would be naive to take Stokes’ involvement from the off in the subcontinent for granted.

“I think, naturally, when you are vice-captain there is always a risk that the captain can go down,” Pope said.

“Of course, that is something that I can think about if it needs to happen but the feedback I have had from the physios since the surgery has been really positive.

“Stokesy is doing good but it would be silly for me not to prepare and think about and if it is required of me, it is something I have pretty decent clarity about, I think.”

Pope has not played competitively since June after undergoing surgery of his own, having dislocated his right shoulder while diving in the field during the second Ashes Test at Lord’s.

It is a familiar injury – he dislocated his left shoulder twice before surgery in 2020 – but while Pope will be watchful with his overarm throwing, he insists the issue is not in the back of his mind.

“The shoulder has been good,” he said. “I trust the operation. In terms of diving around, I know I have a stable joint now and that is the good thing in my mind.

“It can still be sore when I’m throwing but that’s something I’m going to have to put up with for a while. Having a little bit of pain is only natural after a big surgery.”

“I just need to manage my throwing. A lot of the time I am just trying to save it for games when I do get a go. I will keep throwing in training but keep as many for the games as I can.”

Pope is ready to settle back into his usual spot of number three in England’s batting order in India, having established himself in the ‘Bazball’ era, averaging 42.46 in his most recent 15 appearances.

While he has 38 Test caps, the 25-year-old is yet to feature for either of England’s white-ball sides although he has been an unused squad member for their ODI series against the West Indies.

Injuries and his increasing involvement with the Test side have impacted his chance to make a case for limited-overs selection but the Surrey batter is convinced he has a role to play going forwards.

“It is a new start when you are trying to get into a new format,” he said. “I feel my game is well suited to 50-over cricket. I had a bit of bad luck in 50-over cricket over the last couple of years.

“I feel I have a lot to offer but now I want to go and show it. That will have to be in the summer now but I feel I can really develop that side of my game.

“I’ve been really happy to be here and it is one step closer to getting in the side.”

Pope will leave the Caribbean this weekend alongside Zak Crawley, Matthew Potts, Tom Hartley and Brydon Carse. England’s squad will be refreshed with the arrivals of Moeen Ali, Tymal Mills, Adil Rashid and Chris Woakes for a T20 series which starts in Barbados on Tuesday.

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