Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo
Ollie Pope has admitted to feeling a weight lift from his shoulders as he neared a possible second Test century at the end of the opening day of the deciding match against West Indies.
Pope entered the match with a high score of 12* from four innings in the series, but when bad light stopped play late on Friday, he was 91 not out, having shared an unbroken 136-run partnership with Jos Buttler and guided England out of trouble at 122 for 4.
"It does feel like a little bit of a weight off the shoulders," Pope told Sky Sports. "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."
Pope came in with his side 92 for 3 and effectively a specialist batsman down after Zak Crawley was left out to make way for another seam bowler given that Ben Stokes is unlikely to bowl much, if at all, because of a quad muscle injury.
He admitted to feeling as though he had taken time to settle into his latest innings, especially against 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'.
"To be honest, I have found a little bit challenging," Pope said. "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 particularly felt for his team-mates who had been able to spend a lot of time with their young children during the Covid-19 enforced lockdown, only to then go into the squad environment where they could have no physical contact with them.
"It's good just to try and sort of check in and see, try to read people and check how everyone's doing," he added. "Some of them might find it a bit challenging, but I think everyone in general has been pretty good and we do really enjoy each other's company so we've sort of enjoyed what we can."
Pope believed that, as was the case in the previous Test at the same ground, the Emirates Old Trafford pitch seemed to be favouring the new ball. It was a sentiment echoed by West Indies batsman Kraigg Brathwaite, who defended his captain, Jason Holder's decision to bowl first.
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," Pope said. "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."
Given an unpromising forecast, it could indeed be a long time.