Lloyd Pope doesn’t quite know how he bowled the wonder ball that perplexed Cameron Bancroft and changed the momentum on the opening day of South Australia’s Marsh Sheffield Shield season.
What is clear, however, is that his 5-94 on Saturday vindicated both the hard yards he’s put in to ensure he’s a more consistent threat at first-class level and the faith South Australia placed in him by making him their first-choice (and only) spinner for this summer.
Pope’s focus on fine-tuning his stock leg-break over the off-season paid off as the 20-year-old became the first leg-spinner in 50 years to take a five-wicket haul on the first day of a Sheffield Shield season. NSW’s John Gleeson was the last man to achieve the rare feat, in the opening game of the 1970-71 summer against Queensland.
The fiery-haired but softly-spoken Pope had relied on his wrong’un in the performances that had made him a minor cult hero; his eight-for against England at the Under-19 World Cup in 2018 and his seven-for against Queensland 10 months later.
But the wrist-spinner largely shelved his trump card against a strong WA top order.
“I’ve had a lot of focus on variations in the past so I’ve done a lot of work with Shannon Tubb, who’s our spin coach, just about getting a better stock ball, a bit more spin,” Pope told cricket.com.au.
“That’s probably why I feel a bit more comfortable out there.
“It did feel like that (wrong’un being his main weapon) at times but I feel in a really good spot at the moment. I didn’t bowl many variations at all today.”
Pope was brought swiftly back down to earth following those two remarkable hauls two years ago.
After his 7-87 against Queensland (in just his second Sheffield Shield match), Pope took 1-423 from his next 117 overs in first-class cricket.
A more fragile bowler may have crumbled after Sam Whiteman and Cameron Bancroft extended his pain as they slapped him for 41 runs off his first six overs on Saturday.
Yet Pope showed precisely why the Redbacks have entrusted him to be their lead spinner despite him having just five first-class games under his belt leading into the summer, picking up the wickets of the set openers in the same over.
“It’s hard to go past being the only spinner, it plays a bit on your mind,” said Pope. “But I just looked at it as a good opportunity.
“I try not to think about it too much, I just try to bowl my best balls and make a good case for selection in the team.”
Whiteman said Bancroft had already reviewed footage of the ball that dismissed him, a swerving in-dipper than eluded both his bat and front pad.
“He bowled really well, hats off to him, you don’t see five wickets from a leg-spinner on day one too often,” Whiteman told cricket.com.au. “That’s the beauty of a leg-spinner – a couple of good balls and the game can change.
“‘Bangers’ has watched it a few times. It snuck through the gate and just clipped leg-stump.”
Pope was the none the wiser either.
“I don’t really know what happened there,” he admitted. “I’ll have to watch the footage tonight.”
Bancroft and Whiteman’s exits sparked a more economical second spell as he found his groove on a pitch that begun to offer a little more assistance, before another burst in which he removed Shaun Marsh, Ashton Turner and Cameron Green in the space of 19 balls.
The final scalp was the most pleasing.
“It was quite satisfying; I’ve bowled a lot to ‘Greeny’,” said Pope, who was denied a chance to take the field with Green during that Under-19 World Cup in 2018 after the Western Australian picked up an injury before the tournament.
“We spent three months at the NPS (Cricket Australia’s National Performance Squad) together so I know him quite well.
“He was batting very well today. It was good to get his wicket at that time. It felt like things were swinging just back into their favour.”