Warnings rain down on teen ‘prodigy’
TEENAGE flame-top phenomenon Lloyd Pope has officially set fire to the Sheffield Shield, prompting cries for his immediate call-up to the Test team ahead of Australia's blockbuster summer against India.
A quick glance at the cheeky 18-year-old's dedicated fan page - which has been posting to social media on an almost hourly basis after his sensational seven-wicket haul against Queensland - points to the burning passion in cricket fans to see another great leg-spinner in the mix.
Speaking to The Advertiser, spin king Shane Warne said Pope, who has been seen as Warne 2.0, is a "good exciting prospect".
"Young Pope being a good exciting prospect is fantastic, there will be times when you want to play two (Test) spinners," Warne said.
"If young Popey is taking wickets he will put his name up there straight away.
"I think our bowling in any form of the game is pretty good, Nathan Lyon as our spinner has done a terrific job."
But according to former domestic wicketkeeper Darren Berry, the bandwagon behind the South Australian youngster might do more harm than good should he snag a shock call-up to the baggy green.
"I think there will be a strong push, let's get the 18-year-old kid in, and he is good, but he is 18 and the craft is difficult," Berry said on SEN's Afternoons.
"My concern would be if they pluck this kid, he has a bad Test or two, and then they kick him out, leg spinners are a different breed and they take a long time to recover from that.
"My message is don't rush the kid, let him play 15-20 Shield matches and build up his craft and if the cream is still rising, then pick him."
All that aside, it would take Shane Warne himself to oust Nathan Lyon from the spinner's spot in the Aussie dressing room after the off-spinner's glittering performance in the UAE.
England leg-spinner Adil Rashid echoed Berry's sentiment on Pope, urging the 18-year-old to be given time to hone his skills with the ball before making his national debut.
"Any legspinner growing up needs to be given time," Rashid said via cricinfo.com. "You don't just want to throw them in the deep end too soon. You want him to develop his skills and, as he gets older, he'll mature and get better with age.
"As an Australian legspinner, he has to follow in the footsteps of Shane Warne, who is a great. He's done magic for the game.
"But that could potentially be a dangerous route to go for Pope. So it's about making sure if he does get straight in to the Australia team he's not affected by the hype around that. It's about making sure he's nice and relaxed, keeping it simple and not really have too much expectation of himself and also others having them of him."
Pope's rise to becoming a formidable leg-spinner came after his dad told him to roll the wrist over following a so-so attempt at seamers in the nets.
Pope took 6-4 as an eight-year-old in his first outing as a legspinner with the Barron River Cricket Club. Wickets have followed him everywhere since.
Melbourne-born, Queensland-raised, Pope and his family moved to Adelaide where he was schooled at Pulteney Grammar.
He soon linked with the Kensington Cricket Club, renowned as Sir Donald Bradman's club in Adelaide's leafy inner-east. In October 2015, a 15-year-old Pope, in his first game against men for Kensington's D grade, took 5-17 including a hat-trick.
In October 2016 at the under-17 national carnival, Pope captured the most wickets of anyone - 18 at an average of 14.67.
Two months later, just after celebrating his 17th birthday, he took the most wickets in the under-19 national carnival - 21 victims at 16.33.
In the process, Pope became the only cricketer to lead the wicket-takers in the under-17 and under-19 carnivals in the same season.
In April 2017, Pope collected the most wickets in Australia's under-19 series against Sri Lanka - 15 at 16.2, with a strike-rate of a wicket every 24 balls.
And in January this year, Pope spun Australia to a remarkable quarter-final win against England in the under-19 World Cup.
The Aussies made just 127; the Poms were cruising at 0-47 in the eighth over. Enter Pope. Exit English batsmen. He collected 8-35, the best-ever figures at an under-19 World Cup.
While Pope has long been identified by talent spotters as a bright blip on the youth cricket radar, that performance gained him widespread recognition in a country besotted by the sport.
"It was pretty ridiculous, a lot of people started coming out and giving their opinions," Pope said.
"It is a little bit tricky to try and back yourself if you think something is going right, then you have got 100,000 people telling you're not bowling well or blah blah blah."
But the gregarious Pope has never had a problem backing himself.
"He tosses the ball up and tries to spin it both ways, it doesn't really matter who he is bowling to," his South Australian teammate Jake Lehmann says. "He's pretty jovial. He's probably a little kid in a lot of ways but he's very mature with his bowling."
- with Steve Larkin, AAP