England captain Joe Root confirmed on Wednesday that 20-year-old Ollie Pope will make his debut against India in the second Test of the five-match series, starting at Lord’s on Thursday.
While the hosts confirmed their playing XI on the eve of the first Test at Edgbaston, this time around they are leaving a call over Ben Stokes’ replacement for the first day of the match. Stokes, currently attending the trial for his charges of affray in Bristol, will be a big miss for England. Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali, both all-rounders, are the contenders for the spot, with Root confirming Jamie Porter - the 13th member of the squad - won’t be playing.
Pope was called into England’s squad for the second Test against India at Lord’s starting Thursday after Dawid Malan was dropped following the hosts’ 31-run win in the series opener at Edgbaston last week.
“We’ve got a 12. Jamie Porter is the unlucky one to miss out,” Root told a pre-match press conference at Lord’s on Wednesday.
“With the surface as it is, having looked at it today, we’re going to leave it another 24 hours and then make a decision in the morning. Ollie will come in and bat at four. He’s obviously batted at six for Surrey this season – but having seen him play a little bit, and the way his game is set up, I think it’s very much transferable to bat at number four in Test cricket.”
Root, who will be batting in the pivotal number three position, added: “I know that might be seen as quite a big jump. But he’s obviously an exciting talent and, with the guys around him, I think he fits nicely into that position in our team.”
- ‘Mature’ -
Pope only made his first-class debut in March last year and has been called into the Test squad on the back of a mere 15 matches, while he has never batted in the top five in County Championship cricket. Yet this season has seen Pope make 684 runs for Championship leaders Surrey at an average of 85.5, including three centuries.
“He’s very mature for a young man,” said Root.
“I can see that he thinks about the game a lot and has a very good understanding of where he’s at within his own game – which is a really good sign in a young man, coming into this environment. I hope that will stand him in really good stead.”
And having seen one 20-year-old from Surrey in Sam Curran star with both bat and ball at Edgbaston, Root said he hoped Pope would have the confidence to play his own game at Lord’s.
“I think he’s performed exceptionally well this season in County Championship cricket,” Root said.
“He’s played some very important knocks under pressure for Surrey, and he’s got a very good all-round game.
“I’m looking forward to him, more than anything, just going out there and being himself – and playing exactly as he has done throughout this summer.”
- ‘Good enough, old enough’ -
England have often been wary of picking young players but new national selector Ed Smith has overseen what Root termed some “bold decisions” since taking charge this season.
“If you’re good enough, you’re old enough,” said Root.
“These guys, Sam and Ollie, have come in because they have done some special things for Surrey in their recent past.
“A lot of the selections of late have been quite bold on occasions. We’re not shy of being a little bit brave and doing things slightly differently. It’s worked out for us so far.”
Meanwhile India captain Virat Kohli welcomed Pope to the world stage by saying: “It is going to be a big occasion for him. I am happy for him, as a cricketer, I understand how important it is.
“I I will tell him to enjoy the occasion, and not get too many runs,” Kohli jokingly added.
The youngster, right-handed, will bat at No 4, taking Malan’s spot in the XI and didn’t feel that was anything to read into.
“I’m not going to look at it as me v Kohli, because that would be stupid, but it’s an exciting challenge,” he had told reporters on Tuesday, when it was pointed out he and the Indian captain would bat at the same position.
Pope found about his England call-up when Ed Smith called him on Sunday.
“I was on the way to play for Surrey in a T20 at Essex,” Pope said. “I had a flat tyre the day before, so had to get a lift with a mate. I was in the car on my own and saw Ed Smith’s name pop up, and had an idea what it may be. From that moment I hardly remember the conversation, just that it was a good one.”
He added: “I called my parents for a quick chat – they were buzzing. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind day-and-a-half. I need to just keep riding the wave.”
(With AFP inputs)