Australia have a new teenage leg-spinning sensation – and flame-haired teenager Lloyd Pope could be England’s nemesis in next year’s Ashes.
Pope is not a household name yet, but if his Sheffield Shield debut is anything to go by then he may be the first world-class spinner to emerge from Down Under since Shane Warne retired 12 years ago.
The 18-year-old played his second ever first-class match earlier this week for South Australia and he is already breaking records.
He became the youngest ever bowler to take seven wickets in the Sheffield Shield, claiming 7-87 and guiding his side to a comprehensive victory over Queensland.
The comparisons with Warne are inevitable and the Aussie great has already told him that ‘the sky is the limit’.
Pope is so young that Warne’s storied career had already passed the halfway stage when he was born on December 1, 1999.
Although he tormented Queensland earlier this week, Pope is a Queenslander by birth and it was in Cairns, right in the north of the state, that his Dad, Myles, convinced him to take up the art of leg-spin.
Pope was only eight years old when Warne was playing in his final Ashes series against England. Myles was also a wrist-spinner and clearly saw an opportunity.
A six-wicket haul in his first game set the tone and two years later the Pope family upped sticks and moved to Adelaide, where the youngster joined Kensington Cricket Club, whose previous players include a certain Donald Bradman.
The Aussies will visit England next summer for The Ashes, the first Test series between the sides since Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were banned for ball-tampering in South Africa, looking for their first victory on English soil since 2001.
If Pope continues to rip up the Aussie domestic game, then there is a good chance he will be lining up when the sides take the pitch at Edgbaston next August.
But Pope does not look like your average cricketer.
His hair is long and wild and flops about as he runs up to bowl; it is also bright orange and the 18-year-old is an instantly recognisable figure in the field.
While Warne was cocky and did not always endear himself to the public, Pope’s image reflects his personality: laid-back, not too keen on the spotlight and very modest.
‘Just walking out there at the start of play and realising my name is on the scoreboard and that’s it happening… it’s an amazing feeling,’ the teenager said after his recent exploits.
‘It’s a strange feeling to have cameras and things in my face… but I try and take it both ways.
‘I know some days it will be another bloke’s turn and they will take five-for. I just take it as it comes and, if it doesn’t, just try and keep working on my game.’
It has been a whirlwind year for Pope, whose ability first came to the fore in the U19 World Cup as he claimed 8-35 against England to fire his country to an unlikely quarter-final win.
It is no surprise that his team-mates in that side nicknamed him ‘The Wizard’.
Pope already has an array of different deliveries and they are not easy to pick – just ask the bewildered Queensland batsmen who fell to him earlier this week as his wrong-un accounted for a number of his wickets.
That is what has the Aussie public – who are in desperate need of a lift after the ball-tampering scandal that rocked the sport – so excited.
Nathan Lyon’s spot in the Test side is fairly secure, but Warne has tipped Pope to get the nod if he continues to take wickets and the Aussies want to play two spinners in a game.
‘Young Pope being a good exciting prospect is fantastic, there will be times when you want to play two (Test) spinners,’ Warne told The Advertiser.
‘If young Popey is taking wickets he will put his name up there straight away.’
If he does England will be hoping that they learn to deal with Pope’s tricks much better than they did Warne’s, otherwise the unassuming youngster from a leg-spinning family will give plenty of English batsman nightmares when he comes to town.