Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo
NZ v IND (1)
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Hazare Trophy (3)
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NZW-U19 in IND (1)
Stokes is understood to be managing his body, particularly a troublesome left knee, after getting through nine T20Is in the space of a month, culminating with England winning the T20 World Cup in Australia. Following a match-winning 52 not out in the final at the MCG against Pakistan on November 13, he travelled to Dubai for a break before meeting up with the Test squad on Friday.
While he has taken part in the training sessions so far (Sunday and Tuesday) he is yet to bowl in since the final, and the decision was made not to rush him back to full throttle, especially with the first Test eight days away. It is uncertain if he will play any part at all in the match, though the unofficial nature of it means he could still make an appearance if, for instance, he fancies some time in the middle against the red ball.
For Pope, the opportunity to captain represents as much a challenge as a show of faith from Stokes, Brendon McCullum and the wider management group. The Surrey batter impressed last summer by demanding and then impressing in the No. 3 position, with 475 runs at an average of 38, with four scores of fifty or more including a first century on home soil.
Pope has only captained once in his professional career back in September 2021 in a County Championship match for Surrey against Glamorgan when deputising for Rory Burns - then a centrally-contracted England player - who was being rested by the ECB at the time ahead of that winter's Ashes. Beyond that, there were matches in charge for the county's Under-17s and Cranleigh School.
England hope that Pope will thrive under the responsibility. At 24, he fits the profile of an up-and-comer who has established his place in the XI but should also grow as a leader in the dressing room. Much of Stokes and McCullum's mantra centers around players not being afraid to take more ownership of their games and surroundings.
This, by proxy, also makes Pope the clearest vice-captain so far under Stokes. The talismanic allrounder has been reticent to name a deputy, but it is understood Stuart Broad was chosen to take the reins last summer if Stokes spent a period of time off the field or was unfit for selection. Broad opted out of the tour to Pakistan ahead of the birth of his first child, and with another viable candidate Jonny Bairstow also missing following his golfing accident, Pope has the chance to state his case for the role.
No official teams are expected for the match, though the Test 'XI' will bat first and will feature Matthew Potts who has been part of the Lions training group in Dubai since the start of the month. There is a chance Potts could still make it onto the tour of Pakistan, with some suggestions that England may reinforce their fast bowling stocks with an extra man. Potts was omitted from the initial squad after an impressive start to his Test career with 20 wickets in his first five appearances, averaging 28.
A boost for England comes in the form of Jofra Archer, who is expected to bowl for the Lions with restrictions on his workload. Archer has not played for England since March 2021 and has been without competitive cricket since July 2021 having battled an elbow injury and then suffering a stress fracture of there back which ruled him out of the 2022 summer. Brydon Carse and Saqib Mahmood, two others returning from injury, will not play.
The match will be played at the Tolerance Oval, part of the Zayed Cricket Academy, with the Abu Dhabi T10 also due to start at the main stadium on Wednesday.