England middle order batsman Ollie Pope, whose place in the side was under scrutiny after having a below par Test series against the West Indies, having made a highest score of 12* in his four Innings, admitted that he felt like a weight being lifted from his shoulders after scoring an unbeaten 91 at the end of the first day’s play of the third and deciding Test match.
Pope built an unbroken partnership with Jos Buttler, adding 136, guiding England out of trouble after coming together at 122/4.
Pope told Sky Sports, “It does feel like a little bit of a weight off the shoulders. With the pandemic, we haven’t played cricket in a long time and to miss out in the first three innings and, to be to be honest, to be in such an intense environment, we’re not able to get out and see any family so you just sort of go back to your room and then you’re back looking over the cricket pitch, so it is nice to get a few.”
With Zak Crawley being left out of the side to accommodate another specialist fast bowler, given that Ben Stokes might not be able to bowl due to his quad muscle injury, Pope was in additional pressure. He said that he felt as though he had taken time to settle into yesterday’s innings, especially against in-form West Indies quick Kemar Roach. But perhaps just as challenging had been the month-long isolation from family after entering the players’ bio-secure ‘bubble’.
He said, “To be honest, I have found a little bit challenging. Second innings at Hampshire, I got out very late in the day for 12, chopped on, and I think 20 minutes after getting out I was back in my room and I wasn’t able to go for coffee or go back and see the family. Then it just sort of ends up playing on your mind over and over again, so it has got its challenges. But I think you get around the lads, the lads get around you and everyone’s sort of very tightly knit so if anyone is sort of mentally struggling a little bit, then we’ve got each other’s backs.”
Pope stated that very much like the in previous Test match played in the same venue, the pitch at Old Trafford seemed to be favouring the new ball, something that West Indies opener Kraigg Brathwaite also said. West Indies took the second new ball late on Friday but only managed 3.4 overs with it before bad light intervened, with Pope nearing his hundred and Buttler on 56 not out. Pope said he felt comfortable given that both had faced more than 100 balls each.
“If you’re in is probably the best time to bat, because it just comes off that little bit quicker, the bowlers are looking to challenge the stumps and the pads so it gives you scoring opportunities. The older ball did slightly offer not as much, but it did spin a little bit as well, so that’s encouraging for us. Hopefully the rain’s not about tomorrow, it could be a long time in the 90s,” said Pope.