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Ollie Pope puts quad injury down to relentless Vitality Blast schedule

He suffered a quadriceps tear during a run of five T20 games in the space of eight days

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Ollie Pope remains a fitness doubt for England's first Test against India at Trent Bridge, which starts on Thursday, and has suggested that Surrey's relentless Vitality Blast schedule was to blame for his injury.
Pope suffered a grade three quadriceps tear during a run of five T20 games in the space of eight days during Surrey's T20 Blast group stage run-in, immediately after a period of self-isolation after he was a close contact of someone who tested positive for Covid-19.
The injury ruled him out of their last two Blast games, two County Championship fixtures - meaning he has not played a first-class game since the second Test against New Zealand in early June - and the early stages of the Hundred, and a decision is yet to be made about his availability for the first India Test.
"I've been hitting a lot of balls just trying to get as much running as I can done as possible and I guess in a day or two a decision will be made," Pope said on Sunday. "I'm hopeful, but I guess it's up to physios and management to manage the risk of it.
"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. Then it's just about how I'm sprinting - I'm feeling it a little bit but nothing major. It's just trying to make sure if I did play this one there's not going to be issues for the next four if selected."
Pope is used to spending long periods out injured following lengthy lay-offs with two shoulder injuries over the last two years, and admitted that it was "frustrating" to have missed so much cricket.
"I think the shoulder ones are even more frustrating because there's not a lot you can do: you give 100% in the field and suddenly you're left with two shoulder operations," he said. "I guess this is a more short-term one. It is frustrating, especially when you're missing games because I just want to play the whole time.
"With the schedule, I think we played five T20s in seven [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 seven days is always going to provide a little risk. It is frustrating but hopefully I'll sort this quad out and that's the end of it.
"As English cricket, the county set-up plays a lot more cricket than any other. 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."
Pope made a brilliant 135 not out against South Africa in January 2020 to reinforce his status as English cricket's most promising young batter, but has struggled for runs in Test cricket since, averaging 25.17 with only two fifties since the start of last summer. His county form has remained impressive, with 555 Championship runs at 61.66 this season, but his technique - and in particular his off-stump guard - have come under scrutiny from analysts and pundits.
"You've got to get used to it," he said. "When I was first playing, you looked at how I got out and people would say I should stand a little further across and it would help me leave that fifth-stump ball. Then you stand a little further across and get hit on the pad once and suddenly you're standing too far across.
"It's an interesting one. You've got to be pretty stubborn as a cricketer in this environment. You've got to work out what's best for you against these specific bowlers in these conditions and work with your coaches and who knows you best rather than guys who have seen you bat on TV two or three times.
"With that technique that I use, I think I average 60-odd for Surrey this year batting like that against international bowlers, so there's obviously some sort of use behind it as well. Everyone has got their opinions which is absolutely fine, but you've got to know your game better than everyone else.
"As long as your balance is good, if you can cover that off stump with your eyes level, it helps you leave that fifth-stump ball. Especially in England where the ball does swing and nip around, you need to do what you can to cover one side of the bat. Hence why a lot of the best players of the world, when they come over, that's where they stand in Test cricket."
Pope admitted that the absence of Ben Stokes - who is spending an indefinite period of time away from the game to focus on his mental wellbeing - represented "a blow" for England, but said that the team supported his decision to miss the India series.
"Stokesy is one of, if not the, best allrounder in the world so you're always going to miss him if he's not playing," he said. "But we're well behind him with that decision and I wish him to be the best he can as soon as he can.
"We, as a nation, and the world, look at Stokesy as a real macho fighter character - and he is. But this is a reminder and shows how mentally straining cricket and sport at the highest level can be, and the situation of being in a bubble away from the family does make that tougher.
"We all support him 100 percent and would love to get him back as soon as we can, but I think mental health is much more important than a game."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98