Ollie Pope ready to step up as captain if Ben Stokes unfit for India Test series

By Sports Desk December 09, 2023

Ollie Pope is primed to lead England if captain Ben Stokes is unable to recover for the beginning of their next Test assignment in India in the new year.

Stokes is in a race against time to be fit for the first of five Tests, starting on January 25 in Hyderabad, following an operation last month in a bid to resolve a longstanding left knee problem.

Even a slight setback in his rehabilitation might lead to a promotion for his deputy Pope, who admitted he would be naive to take Stokes’ involvement from the off in the subcontinent for granted.

“I think, naturally, when you are vice-captain there is always a risk that the captain can go down,” Pope said.

“Of course, that is something that I can think about if it needs to happen but the feedback I have had from the physios since the surgery has been really positive.

“Stokesy is doing good but it would be silly for me not to prepare and think about and if it is required of me, it is something I have pretty decent clarity about, I think.”

Pope has not played competitively since June after undergoing surgery of his own, having dislocated his right shoulder while diving in the field during the second Ashes Test at Lord’s.

It is a familiar injury – he dislocated his left shoulder twice before surgery in 2020 – but while Pope will be watchful with his overarm throwing, he insists the issue is not in the back of his mind.

“The shoulder has been good,” he said. “I trust the operation. In terms of diving around, I know I have a stable joint now and that is the good thing in my mind.

“It can still be sore when I’m throwing but that’s something I’m going to have to put up with for a while. Having a little bit of pain is only natural after a big surgery.”

“I just need to manage my throwing. A lot of the time I am just trying to save it for games when I do get a go. I will keep throwing in training but keep as many for the games as I can.”

Pope is ready to settle back into his usual spot of number three in England’s batting order in India, having established himself in the ‘Bazball’ era, averaging 42.46 in his most recent 15 appearances.

While he has 38 Test caps, the 25-year-old is yet to feature for either of England’s white-ball sides although he has been an unused squad member for their ODI series against the West Indies.

Injuries and his increasing involvement with the Test side have impacted his chance to make a case for limited-overs selection but the Surrey batter is convinced he has a role to play going forwards.

“It is a new start when you are trying to get into a new format,” he said. “I feel my game is well suited to 50-over cricket. I had a bit of bad luck in 50-over cricket over the last couple of years.

“I feel I have a lot to offer but now I want to go and show it. That will have to be in the summer now but I feel I can really develop that side of my game.

“I’ve been really happy to be here and it is one step closer to getting in the side.”

Pope will leave the Caribbean this weekend alongside Zak Crawley, Matthew Potts, Tom Hartley and Brydon Carse. England’s squad will be refreshed with the arrivals of Moeen Ali, Tymal Mills, Adil Rashid and Chris Woakes for a T20 series which starts in Barbados on Tuesday.

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  • The numbers which prove Derek Underwood had plenty of players in a spin The numbers which prove Derek Underwood had plenty of players in a spin

    Derek Underwood, one of Test and first-class cricket’s all-time leading wicket-takers, has died aged 78.

    Underwood, who retired in 1987 and played his last Test in 1982, still ranks sixth among Test wicket-takers for England and is the leading spinner on that list.

    He also ranks 14th all-time for first-class wickets and here, the PA news agency looks at his career record.

    First-class record

    Underwood took 2,465 first-class wickets in a 25-year career with Kent and England spanning 676 matches.

    That ranks him comfortably inside the top 20 in the game’s history, while his wickets came at an average of 20.28.

    While that excellent mark is actually bettered by most of those ahead of him, on a list headed by fellow slow left-armer Wilfred Rhodes’ 4,204 wickets at 16.72, Underwood’s economy rate of 2.14 runs an over is the best of the many spinners in that group and trails only Derek Shackleton and Maurice Tate.

    He took 100 wickets in his debut first-class season in 1963 – becoming the youngest bowler to do so, only turning 18 in June of that summer.

    Nicknamed “Deadly”, he had career-best figures of nine for 28 and was noted for his match-winning spells – particularly on damp pitches, such as his seven for 50 in a 1968 Test against Australia at the Oval and eight for nine against Sussex five years later.

    Though not noted for his batting, he recorded a solitary first-class century in 1984, aged 39. Sussex were again the opponents as he nudged his way to 111 in a tied game. He added just two half-centuries in 710 innings.

    A further 411 matches in List A cricket, with 572 wickets at 19.40, took him beyond 1,000 matches and 3,000 wickets in his career.

    England record

    No other England spinner has taken as many Test wickets as Underwood’s 297, in 86 games between 1966 and 1982.

    His wickets came at an average of 25.84, with his best innings and match figures both coming against Pakistan in August 1974 with eight for 51 in the second innings and 13 for 71 in the match.

    James Anderson and Stuart Broad have broken new frontiers for England in recent years, with 700 and 604 wickets respectively, but only three other bowlers have exceeded Underwood’s tally.

    Lord Ian Botham took 383 between 1977 and 1992, Bob Willis took 325 and Fred Trueman 307.

    Graeme Swann is Underwood’s nearest challenger among England spinners, taking his 255 wickets in just 60 matches but at an average over four runs higher than Underwood’s.

    Underwood ranks 38th on the all-time Test wicket list and is in the top 10 among spinners, a list headed by Sri Lanka great Muttiah Muralitharan’s record 800 and Shane Warne’s 708 for Australia.

    Anil Kumble took 619 for India, Australia’s Nathan Lyon and India’s Ravichandran Ashwin are over 500 and Rangana Herath and Harbhajan Singh broke the 400 barrier. Daniel Vettori (362) and Lance Gibbs (309) are the others ahead of Underwood.

    On the spinning pitches of India, Underwood edges out Australia’s Richie Benaud as the leading visiting spinner with 54 wickets.

    Underwood also played 26 one-day internationals, taking 32 wickets at 22.93 with a best of four for 44 against the West Indies.

  • ‘Deadly’ Derek Underwood – the spinner who caused havoc with unique skill set ‘Deadly’ Derek Underwood – the spinner who caused havoc with unique skill set

    More than 40 years have passed since his last Test appearance, but among English spinners the achievements of ‘Deadly’ Derek Underwood stand alone as the benchmark.

    Underwood, who has died aged 78, remains the country’s most prolific, successful and revered spin bowler of his or any other period, claiming an unmatched career haul of 297 wickets.

    His ubiquitous nickname was uttered affectionately by those who played alongside him and fearfully by those he came up against, a recognition of his ability to wreak havoc with his unique set of skills.

    Quicker and flatter than the average slow left-armer – the first word of that descriptor always seemed out of place – he was renowned as a master manipulator of damp surfaces in the eras of uncovered pitches.

    That puts him comfortably clear at the top of the England lineage – 42 ahead of the next best, Graeme Swann, and streets beyond significant figures like Tony Lock (174), Jim Laker (193) and Moeen Ali (204).

    While Underwood’s record tally was undoubtedly aided by the ‘sticky dog’ conditions which later disappeared from the game, he was several decades too early to cash in on the goldmine of DRS.

    While Swann won 70 lbw decisions with technology on his side, Underwood earned just 24 in a time when batters could confidently use their pad as a first line of defence.

    His impressive final haul, and the legacy that goes with it, would have been even more striking were it not for two self-imposed interruptions to his international career, first for joining Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket and later for his role in the first ‘rebel tour’ of South Africa.

    The International Cricket Council’s official rankings, applied retrospectively, now places Underwood as the world’s number one Test bowler for almost four years between 1969-1973.

    Among many highs, including 17 five-wicket hauls and six 10-wicket matches, he is most fondly remembered for a starring role in a classic Ashes finish at the Oval in 1968.

    With a downpour threatening to preserve Australia’s 2-1 series lead, members of the crowd helped with the mopping up work to allow Colin Cowdrey’s side little more than half-an-hour to take the six wickets they needed for victory.

    All eyes were on Underwood, who exploited a made-to-measure surface with a sequence of four wickets for six runs in 27 balls, wrapping things up with barely five minutes to spare and finishing with seven for 50.

    In similar circumstances against Sussex five years later, he proved positively unplayable as he gorged himself with cartoonish figures of eight for nine.

    Born on June 8 1945 in Bromley to a cricketing family, his aptitude revealed itself early at Dulwich College Preparatory School when he took nine wickets in an innings for the under-10s.

    He went one better by claiming all 10 in an outing for Beckenham and Penge Grammar School and was later spotted by Lock, who passed an excited recommendation on to Kent.

    After making his first-class debut for them at just 17, taking 101 wickets in each of his first two seasons, he progressed to the Test arena by the tender age of 21.

    A year later Alan Knott, a long-time accomplice from schoolboy cricket to the Kent first XI, followed him and one of England’s defining bowler-wicketkeeper partnerships took root.

    Mark Nicholas, broadcaster and former Hampshire captain, once described batting against the pair as being “piggy-in-the-middle of a collaboration in genius”.

    Underwood proved himself a reliable matchwinner when the elements assisted – it was said England carried him like an umbrella, for he was indispensable when it rained – and relentlessly miserly when they did not.

    That combination had already yielded 265 Test scalps in 74 caps when he was lured away by the Packer revolution in 1977, a decision that brought overdue financial security and no real regrets.

    He was welcomed back for a lower-key second act, making 12 more appearances and signing off with eight wickets in Sri Lanka’s inaugural Test, before bringing down the curtain for good by joining the controversial trip to Apartheid-era South Africa in 1982.

    Underwood continued to turn out for Kent for several seasons and finished up a three-time County Championship winner, including the 1970 title which ended a 57-year wait.

    Having reached 1,000 first-class wickets as a 25-year-old – only Wilfred Rhodes and George Lohmann had ever completed the feat quicker – he finally added a century to his list of achievements at the age of 39.

    For a batter best known for belligerent efforts as a nightwatchman, it was a proud late addition to an already-glittering CV.

    Husband to Dawn and father to two daughters, Heather and Fiona, he was appointed president of the MCC in 2008 and an honorary fellow of Canterbury Christ Church University in later life.

    A relatively low-profile retirement followed, belying his status as a fixture in any conversation about an all-time England XI.

  • Former England and Kent spinner Derek Underwood dies aged 78 Former England and Kent spinner Derek Underwood dies aged 78

    Derek Underwood, the most prolific spin bowler in England’s Test history, has died at the age of 78, his former county Kent have announced.

    Underwood, affectionately known as ‘Deadly’, claimed 297 scalps in 86 Test appearances for his country with his brisk left-arm spin, as well as another 32 in ODIs.

    Known as a master of uncovered pitches, he first played for his country as a 21-year-old in 1966 and made his final appearance in 1982.

    His record tally would have been even higher had it not been for his decision to play in Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket and the first rebel tour of South Africa, but he still sits 42 wickets ahead of his nearest rival among spinners, Graeme Swann.

    Kent chair Simon Phillip said in a statement: “The Kent Cricket family is in mourning following the passing of one of its greatest ever players.

    “Derek was an outstanding contributor to both Kent and England, winning trophies for club and country and etching his name in the history books forevermore.

    “Watching Derek weave his unique magic on a wet wicket was a privilege for all who were able to witness it. His induction into the ICC Hall of Fame shows the esteem in which he was held in world cricket.

    “An advocate for growing our game worldwide whilst protecting our sport’s rich heritage, Derek also made substantial contributions off the field as well as on it, and he will be sorely missed by everyone at Kent Cricket.”

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