Pope: I feared cricket-less summer

England return to Test action on Wednesday but Ollie Pope admits he feared a cricket-less 2020 summer as he blogs on the competitiveness of the team’s internal warm-up game, playing behind closed doors, and his attempts at being a barista…

Just to be playing Test cricket this summer feels like a bit of a victory in itself.

Now we have been at The Ageas Bowl for nearly two weeks I think everyone has got their heads around it, but I guess that until we got into this camp it felt so far away.

There were times where I felt we might not get any cricket this year, I think everyone had that thought in the back of their minds.

I remember being on Zoom calls with England where we were told about potential plans but then chatting to a few of the lads afterwards and us saying it all seemed a bit up in the air. We weren’t really sure whether it was false hope and there was always that slight bit of doubt.

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Test cricket is back with one of the greatest rivalries. Watch every ball of England versus West Indies on Sky Sports from Wednesday

Test cricket is back with one of the greatest rivalries. Watch every ball of England versus West Indies on Sky Sports from Wednesday

Everyone is extremely grateful for what West Indies have done coming over. They obviously want to play cricket but they have come to an area where coronavirus has been worse than what it has been for them back home.

We really appreciate what they have done. I’m sure the whole country does as well as it is allowing international cricket to go back ahead.

Feeling fit

I found lockdown okay – we can’t really complain as there were people who had it a lot tougher than us but it was obviously a little bit boring at times as we just wanted to play cricket.

That wasn’t possible and, in a weird kind of way, I think everyone enjoyed little break from the game – it was a busy winter and a lot of the lads have been in the England set-up for a long time and played a huge amount of cricket over the last few years.

Ollie scored an unbeaten 55 on the final day of England's internal warm-up at The Ageas Bowl Ollie scored an unbeaten 55 on the final day of England's internal warm-up at The Ageas Bowl

Ollie scored an unbeaten 55 on the final day of England’s internal warm-up at The Ageas Bowl

Everyone has kept fit and in a pretty good place mentally and it is nice to have a bit of normality back now. I definitely felt pretty good batting in our internal warm-up game.

Normally when we go on tour and have a first hit out in a game situation, I feel a little bit rusty because you are often playing against bowlers you don’t know.

So, it was good to face bowlers I had faced in the nets in a game situation and I felt like I moved pretty well. It was more getting the mindset on knowing you are not just having a half-hour net and that there are consequences. One wrong step and that’s your innings over.

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The game certainly didn’t feel like you were playing against your mates.

There wasn’t really any chirping but there were little battles going on, with bowlers wanting to get us batters out and the batters wanting to see off a tough spell and get on top of the bowlers, so it was competitive. I still got nerves walking out to bat.

The pitch was quite slow and low, didn’t nip around a lot, but that is in contrast to the nets we have been playing in which have been pretty spicy. So, it has been good preparation as we have batted on all kinds of surfaces. The lads are raring to go and ready for whatever wicket we face in the Test.

Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes were the captains during England's internal warm-up in Southampton Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes were the captains during England's internal warm-up in Southampton

Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes were the captains during England’s internal warm-up in Southampton

Intensity

I was very pleased to be named in the 13-man Test squad on Saturday but you are always under pressure for your spot in international cricket – the performances of James Bracey and Dan Lawrence last week show the depth we have and I’m sure those guys will be on our heels.

It is great to see so many young batters in and around the squad but I try not to worry about selection too much and just focus on doing the right things and looking after my own game

West Indies obviously have a lot of talented quick bowlers – I’m sure they will come hard and aggressive at us – but I will take confidence from the South Africa tour over the winter. I had never faced a team with more than one 90mph bowler in it before, so to have Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje bowling with decent wheels and relentlessly as well and knowing I dealt with the short stuff pretty well on some pretty quick wickets was a boost for me.

Ollie Pope

I mentioned in my columns earlier this year how I made technical adjustments after my shoulder injury in 2019 – moving over slightly in my crease and generally getting in better positions – but I also feel in a better place mentally since I made my debut for England in 2018.

I try not to look too far ahead now whereas before I was slightly rushed. I had only played around 13 or 14 first-class games before facing India so playing for England was very sudden.

I certainly wouldn’t say I got caught up in it but having been around the squad for a fair while I feel it’s an environment in which I can thrive. The bigger characters in the team allow that to happen.

Pope won the Player of the Match award in January's third Test against South Africa in Port Elizabeth after scoring his maiden Test century Pope won the Player of the Match award in January's third Test against South Africa in Port Elizabeth after scoring his maiden Test century

Pope won the Player of the Match award in January’s third Test against South Africa in Port Elizabeth after scoring his maiden Test century

It will be strange walking out on Wednesday with no fans around – singing the national anthem and only being able to hear your own voice will be a bit different! But sometimes in county cricket, we don’t get many fans due to the games taking place during weekdays so it won’t be too alien.

It’s still Test cricket, still what I have dreamed of my whole life, still a great chance for us to get a Test victory. We just need to generate our own intensity without the Barmy Army there.

That’s not necessarily though pointless shouting but more through body language, buzzing around in the field, flinging the ball into the keeper as often as possible. Trying to create as much energy as possible.

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Zak Crawley says Ben Stokes will have ‘no problems’ captaining England and also gives his thoughts on playing a Test series behind closed doors.

Zak Crawley says Ben Stokes will have ‘no problems’ captaining England and also gives his thoughts on playing a Test series behind closed doors.

Thinking cricketer

Ben Stokes obviously gives you all of that and he has been no different since it was announced he will captain us in the first Test. He has been a senior player in the Test and one-day side for a long time now and someone all us young lads look up to in terms of how he trains and carries himself.

He is someone Sir Alastair Cook before and Joe Root now always speak to, so he has probably been thinking like a captain for a long time. He is going to be the same player, the same bloke and will do a great job. He thinks as well as anyone else about the game.

As you might expect, Stokesy’s Durham team-mate Mark Wood has been as upbeat as usual in the camp – a video went out of him singing Jerusalem the other morning during the warm-up game which was awesome. Woody is certainly ready for the Test to begin.

We are lucky to have a golf course attached to the hotel so Stokesy has booked plenty of tee times and I think I have played six or seven rounds, maybe even more, since I got here. A lot of Xbox has been played, too, with us getting on the headsets in the evenings and playing Call of Duty.

We also had a barista class the other day, with myself, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes, Ben Foakes and fitness coach Daz Veness trying to learn how to make better coffees. I think Foakesy was the best, he is the most experienced, but Woakesy and I are trying to up our game!

I was also pleased to hear that club cricket has been given the okay to restart.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson says recreational cricket can resume from next weekend

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says recreational cricket can resume from next weekend

Whether it’s young lads of seven or eight being able to get back playing or older lads I think it is a great social occasion. It used to be the highlight of my weekend, getting to see my mates and playing sport, so I am so excited that it’s coming back and people can get back to some kind of normality.

The same goes for county cricket, which will start again in August fingers crossed.

For guys who didn’t go away and play in the winter they could possibly have gone 18 months without any cricket. Hopefully, everything goes smoothly, especially for guys in the last year of their contracts who will want to put in some big performances.

I am so happy that cricket is back at all levels.

Watch Ollie in action during England’s three-Test #raisethebat series against West Indies. Our coverage of the first Test begins at 10.30am on Wednesday on Sky Sports Cricket and Main Event.

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