Ollie Pope poised for return ahead of first Test in India


Jofra Archer insists he’s ready to go after his break with ‘a very long year’ ahead

Ollie Pope looks set to be added to England’s Test squad in time to play the first Test of the series against India.

Pope, the 23-year-old middle-order batsman, suffered a dislocated shoulder while fielding in the final Test of the English summer in August which subsequently required surgery. It was the second time he had suffered a dislocation to the shoulder.

While Pope has been part of the touring party in Sri Lanka and India, he has not been an official part of the squad. Instead, he has been able to continue his rehabilitation with England’s support staff and acclimatise to conditions in Asia.

He has been able to bat without issue for some time. Indeed, he made a fluent – and unbeaten – half-century in the warm-up game which preceded the first Test of the Sri Lanka series. There were, however, doubts over how his shoulder could withstand the demands of long periods in the field and the need to dive and throw in particular.

But having come through England’s first full training session of the tour unscathed on Tuesday, there seems every chance Pope will be added to the squad in the next couple of days. He will then be considered for selection for the first Test, which starts on Friday, and likely to bat at No. 5 or No. 6.

If Pope is deemed not quite ready to return, it seems Dan Lawrence will keep his place in the England side. There is also a chance Moeen Ali could be recalled to add another spin-bowling option.

Another man set to return is Jofra Archer. While he has also had a long break from the game – he was rested for the Sri Lanka tour – he insists he is fit and ready to go. “I was still training in my time off,” he said. “The drive hasn’t stopped when the cricket stopped.”

While Archer’s previous experience in India is limited to white-ball cricket – meaning he has to get accustomed to the red SG ball – it would appear his main concern is dealing with the limitations of life in the bubble. No England player spent longer in the bubble than Archer during the summer of 2020 and there were moments in his press conference on Tuesday, when he seemed daunted by both the schedule in front of him and looming months in lockdown.

England are scheduled to play nine Tests against India, two against New Zealand, most of an Ashes series, a T20 World Cup and tour Pakistan and Bangladesh in the coming months, with Archer also required to play in the IPL.

And, with a veiled reference to Andrew Johnston, the golfer who withdrew after nine holes of the British Masters, Archer dismissed criticism of England’s policy of rotating people out of the bubble suggesting cricketers had been obliged to endure more than their fair share of it.

“I have looked at the schedule today and all I can say is it is going to be a very long year,” Archer said. “We are only in February now and it is going to be a long, long year. We have a few series coming up and body management is going to be essential if I want to play everything, or most of everything.

“Anyone criticising us never spent a week in the bubble. Or months in the bubble, I should say. One golfer left after four days. We’ve been in here for almost a year now.

“I didn’t really feel like I left [the bubble]. The same faces. Maybe one or two have gone now. But it’s the same faces. You don’t feel like you’ve gone anywhere.

“It’s vital to get in and out. At the end of the day, humans are social people. It starts to get hard if you are not having a great game or not feeling good within your cricket because there is no escape; there’s nowhere to go.

“I think the ECB has made it really great to give people like myself six weeks away. Jos [Buttler] is going after this game. Sam [Curran] has gone. So they are making it a priority that everyone gets time away so they can come back refreshed and ready to go. Not drained.

“I don’t mind to be honest because I know I will get my time away. I am just going to focus on the job at hand. If it does get too overbearing, there’s no shame in saying that. I think [head coach] Chris Silverwood has said already: if you have a problem come and tell him.

“But at the moment I am good to go until at least July.”

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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