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.
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.
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.