LONDON: Ben Stokes’ court hearing is the hot topic in London these days. Every newspaper has Stokes on the front-page as he tries to avoid conviction in a brawl case involving a gay couple in Bristol.
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But the England team is trying its best to keep the topic out of discussion. As the media manager walked in with new boy Ollie Pope, it was made clear that they would not take questions on Stokes controversy.
Stokes not playing would obviously be a big blow for England. Allrounder Chris Woakes will take his place in the XI. The other replacement in the England team will be the inclusion of Pope in place of Dawid Mallan, who had a difficult time against the R Ashwin, Mohammad Shami and Ishant Sharma.
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The fact that Pope is a right-hander and has a reputation for playing spin well worked in his favour. And he gave the impression that he has been following Ashwin closely of late. “Ashwin is not your regular off-spinner. He bowls a ball that spins away and one that spins back in. If I have to play him like a normal off-spinner, I will have to watch him a bit closer out of the hand. You need to know what ball is coming down at you. You can’t just premeditate an off-spinner with him,” Pope said, talking about his preparations against Ashwin.
But the 20-year-old, who has been mentored by Alec Stewart, will sit down and analyse Ashwin’s bowling a little more before the Test. “I’ll have a closer look before the game and will try to have a game-plan,” Pope said.
The youngster was nowhere close to the national team but consistent performances for Surrey brought him into reckoning. And as he prepares to take guard on his debut at Lord’s, he takes inspiration from what Sachin Tendulkar had to said about starting early. “Everyone always says if you’re good enough, you are old enough. How old was he – 16, 17? It’s nice hearing those stories – those are pretty inspirational. They make you realise what you can do,” Pope said.
It’s not just the Sachin story that is inspiring Pope. He is looking forward to “picking the brains” of his captain Joe Root as well before the big moment arrives. “I met up with him last night, we had a dinner at the hotel. So I’ll pick his brains on when he made his debut. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind two days,” Pope said, trying to soak the attention in.
Does the fact that he would be making his debut at Lord’s put extra pressure on him?
Pope doesn’t feel so. “I have played quite a lot of cricket here, so that’s quite nice. I was here on the first morning of the Pakistan Test, around the changing room, having a hit at lunch. I have an idea what it’s like to be here on the first morning of the Test, but obviously it’s a bit different when you’re playing.”