Ollie Pope confident England will maintain Test match intensity without fans

Ollie Pope insists England will not allow the absence of fans to dial down their Test match intensity when they face the West Indies in a deserted Ageas Bowl next week.

England’s 29-man training group warmed-up for the return of international cricket with a three-day internal match in Southampton and many were struck by the eerie silence that greeted them in the ground.

There has been some talk of piping in crowd noise or using music between overs to fill the void but Pope, who made a free-flowing 55 not out on the final afternoon before the match ended in a draw, is sure that the occasion will not be diminished.

“When we have big crowds in and the Barmy Army are here it is amazing but we’ll still be playing Test cricket and it’s still the pinnacle,” he said.

“Even if there’s not a single person in the crowd it’s still what we all dreamed of doing. There will still be the same nerves in the morning because so much rides on it. When that Test match starts up, crowd or no crowd, you are going to be really up for it.

“It has been quiet, especially at a ground like this where there is nothing going on outside the ground and no real noise out there, but that doesn’t change the quality of the cricket.

“Whether we are going to play a big of music out of the speakers I’m not sure but we can find ways of creating our own atmosphere I’m sure. We’ve got to find a way to do that when we get on top or when we need a bit of energy.”

Fast bowler Mark Wood made his own attempt at lifting the spirits this week, at one stage singing Jerusalem from the top of the pavilion while waving a flag as the teams walked out to the field of play.

“I hope he does it again, it was outstanding. He’s got the voice of angel,” said Pope, in a charitable review of his team-mate’s tunefulness.

Pope’s half-century was one among a handful of useful batting contributions on the final day of the intra-squad match, with a further seven players passing 30.

Of those there were lengthy stays for openers Rory Burns and Dom Sibley, each occupying the crease for more than an hour and 45 minutes, while Zak Crawley looked in good touch. Ben Stokes, next week’s stand-in captain, launched Matt Parkinson for three sixes in an over and finished with 33 not out in just 17 balls before the draw was agreed.

Yet the most welcome development of the day came from someone who was not even involved, with Sam Curran testing negative for Covid-19. He spent Thursday’s play self-isolating in his room after feeling unwell but he was given the all-clear during the afternoon and emerged to watch the final session from pitch-side.

“I think we were trying to focus on the cricket but I don’t know how you deal with those situations,” Pope said of the overnight health scare.

“It’s good he tested negative for the virus and he’s feeling a lot better and ready to go. It was nice to see him back out there today.”

Curran and Pope can both expect to survive the next squad cut on Saturday morning, with selectors keeping on 22 players ahead of the first Test. Captain Joe Root has already left the group to be with his family for the birth of his second child.

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