Cult hero’s classy take on Warnie comparisons
FOR just a moment, Lloyd Pope found himself sitting alone in the Australian team dressing room at the Under 19s World Cup in New Zealand.
He was the first man back in the sheds and it had finally dawned on him just what he'd achieved.
"I was just thinking 'wow, what an amazing experience to play a quarter-final for my country'…then it just hit me that I'd bowled a pretty good spell."
Pope's "pretty good spell" was actually the best in U19 World Cup history. The long-haired leg-spinner had taken 8-35 to carry Australia to victory over England after Jason Sangha's side was knocked over for 127.
Heading into the World Cup, Pope had told the ICC's Youtube channel that his target for the tournament was to get one wicket. "Just one wicket," he had said with a sly grin. In one match he took eight.
"Sometimes things just click," Pope, now training with the National Performance Squad, told foxsports.com.au.
"If a couple of batsmen get out quickly you can get a bit of a roll on. You start to feel like you're in the zone.
"Everything feels smooth in my run-up and it comes out nicely with a click of the fingers.
"When you get that feeling, you use it. You ride that wave. "
In February, while the leggie was soaking in the simple - but significant - joy of representing his country, across the ditch a nation's attention had been captured. Within the spin bowling fraternity, everyone from Shane Warne to Kerry O'Keeffe was singing his praises.
"White smoke coming from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel...cricket has a new Pope ...Lloyd Pope," tweeted O'Keeffe. "Brings a huge smile to my face" chimed in Warne.
For Pope it was all a bit surreal.
"I was a bit jittery to be honest (speaking to the media…during the post-match interview on the ground I was shaking the whole time"
But while the 18-year-old was the talk of the nation, when he returned to grade cricket with Kensington in South Australia he went back to simply being 'Pennywise' - a nickname he has earned for his wild red hair.
Two years before he announced himself on the world stage, a 16-year-old Pope was making his debut for Kensington's Twenty20 Cup team. And it did not go well. For time immemorial leg-spinners around the country have gone the distance in grade cricket and that proved the case for Pope too. There was a wicket to celebrate but from the two overs he bowled he went for 34 runs.
"That one wicket was a bit of a fluke," he said. "I was getting hit for sixes left right and centre."
It was a humbling experience he took plenty from.
"That was my first A-grade experience ever and I was a little taken aback by it. It made me think, 'wow, can I make it at this level?'
"It gave me a kick up the bum to get going and start practicing to be a better bowler against more experienced, older batsman."
In his next T20 Cup match he took 2-25 off four overs, and he followed that up by taking 13 wickets (7-34 and 6-38) in a two-dayer for Kensington's second XI. A month later he took his then career-best figures of 8-67 for the second XI, earning himself a spot in Kensington's first grade team.
The wrist-spinner took 3-15 off five overs that match and he hasn't looked back since. The following summer he became the first player to ever finish as the top wicket-taker in both the under 17 (18 wickets at 14.67) and under 19 (21 wickets at 16.33) National Championships, and won a rookie contract with South Australia for the 2017-18 season.
When he returned from the World Cup to grade-duty with Kensington his club mates were happy to congratulate him but there was no carry-on. It was simply the return of Pennywise.
"They try to keep me grounded."
Of course, outside of Kensington there was plenty of hype. Like seemingly every Australian leg-spinner that has come through in the past decade, he was being talked up as the "next Shane Warne".
But, make no mistake, he has no interest in being the next Warnie. He knows he is more in the mould of Rashid Khan than Warne. He's a bowler who attacks the stumps and relies on turning the ball both ways rather than ripping leg breaks past the outside edge.
"Of course I look up to him, he's been an amazing bowler for Australia. To take 700 Test wickets would be a dream. But I don't really think about the comparison too much. I know I'm quite a different bowler to him."
Pope has spent the past two months with Troy Cooley's National Performance Squad alongside the country's best young cricketers. Along with improving himself as a bowler, he's working hard on his all-round game.
Few make it to the very top nowadays without excelling in at least two facets of the game. And the very top is where he wants to be.
"The ultimate goal in the end is to get that baggy green. Whether that's a couple of years from now or 15 it doesn't really matter - I'll still be trying to get that."