England middle-order batsman Ollie Pope says the absence of spectators in the first Test against the West Indies starting on July 8 will not lessen the team's intensity. The three-Test series will be played behind close doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The second and third Test will be held in Manchester (July 16-20 and July 24-28). "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," Pope said after England's intra-squad warm-up game.
"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."
The 22-year-old right-handed batsman said playing without spectators doesn't affect the quality of cricket. "Whether we are going to play a bit 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."
Pope said the intensity of the intra-squad three-day warm-up game at the Ageas Bowl here has put the team in the right direction ahead of the opening Test. The practice game between Team Stokes and Team Buttler ended in a draw on the final day on Friday. Pope made 55 not out in Team Buttler's second innings to go with his 25 in the first.
"The quality of competition going on out there was really high-class throughout the three days. I think we're getting there. We're all moving the right direction," Pope said after the game.
"I felt pretty good in the first innings, and it was nice to spend a bit more time out there today. We're all moving in the right direction."
Pope said the Ageas Bowl wicket was on the slower side in contrast to the net pitches that the 30-man squad has been using for training since they arrived here on June 23, and the players had to adapt to a different condition. "On the first day it felt a little bit soft, and there wasn't a lot of carry. Nicks weren't always carrying through. It started turning a little bit at the end. We're not sure what kind of wicket we're going to get out there come next Wednesday," he said.
"We've played on some quite spicy wickets in the nets, and obviously just against our own bowlers. There are no net bowlers around, so the quality of bowling has been seriously high on some pretty spicy wickets.
"We're gone from one extreme to the other. That's great for our games because it's good to adapt," said Pope, who has played seven Tests since making his debut in 2018.
England will name a larger than normal 22-man squad on Saturday morning for the opening Test. The squad and management will be tested for COVID-19 on Sunday.