Surrey’s Ollie Pope says he supports Ben Stokes’ decision to withdraw from all cricket “one hundred per cent.”
Pope, 23, who hopes to feature in the First Test against India, starting tomorrow (Wednesday), also blames the thigh injury that has sidelined him for the last month on Surrey’s relentless Vitality Blast schedule.
The England and Wales Cricket Board announced last week that Stokes will take an indefinite break to prioritise his mental well-being.
“We look at Stokesy as a real macho fighter of a character, and he is,” said Pope, who has shared the international stage with Stokes in 14 of his 19 Tests for England.
“But this shows how mentally straining cricket and sport at the highest level can be.
“We all support him one hundred per cent and would love to have him back as soon as we can, but I think mental health is much more important than the game.
“Stokesy is one of, if not the, best all-rounder in the world so you’re always going to miss him if he’s not playing. But we’re all behind him with that decision and I wish him to be the best he can as soon as he can.”
With even tougher restrictions expected in Australia this winter, including the possibility that players’ families will not be allowed to travel due to the country’s strict entry requirements, it is feared some leading players may opt out of the Ashes series.
“Being away from family in a bubble does make it tougher, but we are finding ways of dealing with these things better,” said Pope. “Last summer and in India [last winter] it was incredibly strict and I spent too much time in my room watching Netflix and playing Xbox.”
On top of his injury, Pope has struggled at international level of late – scoring just 256 runs in his last 14 innings for England – but he brushes off criticism of his preference for taking an off stump guard.
“A decision is still to be made,” said Pope on the thigh injury he suffered playing Twenty20 cricket for Surrey.
“I’ve been hitting a lot of balls and trying to do as much running as I can. I’m still feeling it a bit but nothing major. I’m hopeful but it will be up to the physio and management to manage the risk. It’s trying to make sure that if I do play in this one it won’t create issues for the next four Tests.
“At the time it was a grade three tear, but I think it looked worse on the scan because I played a couple of T20s on it – after I’d done it – so the swelling was worse than a grade three.
“I think we played five T20s in eight days after I had to do 10 days sitting on the couch isolating as a close contact. Going from 10 days on a couch to five games in eight days is always going to provide a little risk. It is frustrating, but hopefully I’ll sort this quad out and that’ll be the end of it.”
Pope added: “I was speaking with Kyle Jamieson, the New Zealander, and they don’t play anywhere near as many games there, especially in that little T20 period. It is a lot of cricket but if it is possible, you’ve just got to try and manage it as best you can.
“The Hundred is spread out – eight games in a month so that’s almost a quieter period and seen as a little bit easier to manage than the T20 block we had.”
Pope says he has no intention of changing the method that has brought him 555 runs at an average of 61.66 in this summer’s County Championship.
“When I first played, people said I should stand a little further across and it would help me leave the ball. Then, when I did, I was hit on the pad and suddenly I was standing too far across.
“You have to be stubborn and work out what’s best for you. I averaged 60-odd for Surrey earlier this season batting this way against international bowlers, so there’s some sort of method to it.
“Everyone has their opinions, but you have to know your game better than anyone.”
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