The 20-year-old, a veteran of just 15 first-class matches, is set to have the opportunity of a lifetime this week at Lord’s so early in his fledgling career.
You have to applaud national selector Ed Smith and his close confidants such as James Taylor for identifying someone like the Surrey batsman – clearly showing they are taking in county cricket on the regular (despite applying a dagger to the heart of the domestic game, the opinion of many, by the left-field and controversial selection of Adil Rashid).
Regardless, Pope’s inclusion went to show how light England’s talent pool is at the moment. That is no disrespect whatsoever to the up-and-coming batsman – it is great to see young Englishmen getting their chance. But can you expect them to perform from the get-go? Not really.
With Pope coming in to replace the out-of-form Dawid Malan and possibly slot in at No6 with the rest of the middle-order being rejigged, there is more emphasis on England’s senior batsmen to deliver – especially given Ben Stokes’ expected absence at the Home of Cricket.
The most senior of them all is Alastair Cook.
The 33-year-old opening batsman, who let’s not forget is sixth in the all-time Test run-scoring charts with 12,158 to his name and only 243 shy of overtaking Sri Lanka legend Kumar Sangakkara, was undone by Ravi Ashwin’s off-spin not once but twice, and bowled on both occasions, during the Edgbaston match.
He was on the receiving end of an absolute ripper in the first innings, the offie’s equivalent of the ‘Ball of the Century’, but by his own admission struggled to get to the pitch of the ball and exert a strong enough forward stride when his stumps were knocked off second time around.
Cook’s place in this England XI is assured. Firstly, there is no sense in spiriting away one of England’s best-ever players and two, there are a genuine lack of alternatives out there.
But, like he has been throughout his entire career since making his Test debut at Nagpur in March 2006, and now a record 155 consecutive Tests later, Cook is always in the spotlight, at the crease at least.
His form and dismissals have always garnered more column inches and comment in an England shirt than anyone else, probably bar Kevin Pietersen and latterly Joe Root. His captaincy, too, took a pummelling reminiscent of the Mike Atherton days of the 1990s.
Scoring runs is usually the best remedy and answer and he needs a few in this series.
Michael Vaughan alluded to as much, and even added during his Monday night phone-in show on BBC Five Live that Cook was not ‘undroppable’ under a new regime willing to make a brave call.
He has a point and Cook could do with improving on his haul of 13 runs in two innings in Birmingham, though he did score two fifties in three knocks against Pakistan during the two-Test series in the early part of the English summer.
That was a big improvement given last winter he averaged just 5.75 against New Zealand and was dismissed for under 20 in 10 of his 13 innings overall.
His 244* knock against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in the fourth Ashes Test aside, Cook was all at sea for the first three matches. That said, who didn’t struggle against a lightning fast Baggy Green pace attack?
Cook’s apparent deficiencies outside off-stump have been highlighted for years but isn’t that how most openers get out? It’s harsh to say he has a real weakness against good line and length pace, but obviously left-armer over has caused him plenty of trouble. The Australia attack, and Pakistan duo Mohammed Amir and Hasan Ali, being proof of that recently.
But for all the chatter, Cook remains unflustered. If anything, ahead of his 26th Test at Lord’s – a venue where he has played at more than any other and scored more hundreds (four) and fifties (12) than any of the 47 other grounds he’s set foot on in the world – is feeling more relaxed now than he did before.
He has and has always loved batting, that is all he knows, aside from his farm life. As the senior statesman of this side Cook should relish the chance to help his side go 2-0 and set the example for the young guns to follow this week.
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