Echoes of the past as young Pope arrives

Rookie leg-spinner reflects on Shield debut so far after vision of his maiden wicket goes viral

For your average teenager, arriving on the big-time senior sporting stage can be a daunting experience – the glare of the spotlight, the stare of the crowd, the fear of fumbling your chance.

But as he confirmed with his remarkable virtuoso effort under the pressure of a cut-throat quarter-final at this year’s ICC under-19 World Cup in New Zealand, Lloyd Pope is scarcely your average teenager.

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And while the 18-year-old admits he’s not prone to nervousness when it comes to cricket occasions, there was a couple of moments during his JLT Sheffield Shield debut – which today brought his maiden first-class wicket courtesy of a stunning wrong-un – that he found a touch disquieting.

Or simply quieting, given the wintry weather that saw Adelaide Oval sparsely populated.

“I just loved the experience, to play a game on the Adelaide Oval - which is obviously my home ground - was amazing,” the South Australia spinner said this evening after finishing his first innings as a Shield bowler with 2-55 from 9.1 overs.

“It was just really weird, all the echoes around the ground when you’re talking.

“Just little things like that, it was a bit surreal.

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“I don’t tend to get too nervous before cricket games, the most nervous I got was when Jake (Lehmann, SA’s captain) told me I was bowling the next over.

“I thought ‘oh right, it’s really happening’, but other than that it was pretty good.”

As Pope’s raw figures suggest, he gave up a few boundaries during his initial spell in senior company, which came as New South Wales’ lower-order mounted rear-guard defiance after seamer Joe Mennie (5-39) had scythed through the top half.

But that can be feasibly explained away by circumstances more so than stage fright – a bitingly cold afternoon on a day-two pitch that has spent half its match life being protected from rain by heavy covers, against tail-enders looking to urgently play their shots.

And the vision of a few of the teen’s leg-breaks being floated full and wide before getting crunched to the boundary was effectively erased when he landed his trademark googly to trap fellow spinner, and Test-capped veteran, Steve O’Keefe fully unaware and in front of his stumps.

It was the amount of turn that Pope gained with his wrong-un as much as the pin-point placement and the pace at which it zipped off the green-tinged pitch that stunned O’Keefe, and made vision of the dismissal an instant social-media talking point.

“It’s just a bit of plan to the tail-enders, to try and turn the ball both ways a little bit more,” Pope said.

“It worked, I guess – so that’s pretty good.

“That pitch is pretty good for spinners, and it was turning both ways pretty well for me.

“That’s why I train in the nets, and practice everything (in his bowling repertoire).

“To get up to one hundred per cent confidence (in the wrong-un) to bowl it a lot, then I’m able to do it out on the ground.”

Image Id: A306B26AE5034A9CB9CC77489142A6D2 Image Caption: Jake Weatherald takes a diving catch to give Pope his second // Getty

It’s that range of variations (Pope reckons he has five different deliveries ranging from stock leg-spinner to googly) along with the ‘revs’ he imparts on the ball, and his control of such a demanding craft that has brought comparisons with the game’s greatest exponent, Shane Warne.

Whether Pope follows Warne’s example and bleaches his orange locks remains unknown.

However, the significant, intangible trait shared by the kindred wrist spinners – who have met just once, briefly, during a recent Test match at Adelaide Oval – is an appetite for competition that drives them to pit themselves against the best.

On the eve of the season-opening Shield game, for which Pope earned selection with the Redbacks’ senior leggie Adam Zampa on national T20 duties in the UAE, Lehmann noted how the competitive teenager steels himself against SA’s senior players in the practice nets.

Pope confirmed he’s not fazed by the experience or notoriety of batters he bowls against, but acknowledges he’s a novice in the artform that has already earned him widespread acclaim after his 8-35 in that under-19 World Cup quarter-final win over England.

Image Id: B794D21A444B4A86B71683F3384FE026 Image Caption: A young Shane Warne // Getty

“There’s probably not much point going into your shell and trying to bowl differently to different batters just because they’ve got a reputation,” Pope said.

“I tend to try and back myself in (at training), and if they’re hitting my good balls I’ll go and ask them what I’m doing wrong and what I could be doing better.

“They’ll let me know, and then I’ll try and change something that I need to.

“I don’t think anyone really masters it (leg-spin bowling), even Warney.

“He hasn’t quite mastered it, and if he hasn’t then I don’t know who has.

“There always different things you can learn.”