The wrong ’un.
The wrong result, that is. If anyone told you that Australia had won their Under-19 World Cup quarter-final after scoring just 127 choosing to bat first, you would have told them it was the wrong result. Certainly against an England team who had raced to 47 without losing a wicket by the seventh over.
Forget wrong result. If someone had walked away from the ground just before that first England wicket, and returned to see them all out for 96, they would have thought they were in the wrong dimension.
Thank leg-spinner Lloyd Pope for that. In an interview to the ICC ahead of the tournament, Pope said of his tournament goals, “I’d just like to take a wicket I reckon, just one wicket; that would be so good.” Now he has the best figures in the tournament’s history, taking over from another Australian, Jason Ralston, who took 7/15 against Papua New Guinea in the same tournament.
English journalist Jonathan Liew wrote, in a lighter vein, of how Shane Warne formed a time-warping “gravitational field created by the revs on the ball”. Pope is no Warne – for one, he has auburn hair – but on Tuesday in Queenstown, his leg-spin was just as reality-warping. Certainly for Australia; the three-time champions looked to be headed for the ignominy of playing for fifth place. But that is what leg-spinners can do.
Not everyday though. Pope started this tournament with figures of 0/22 against India, with the captain only having the belief to employ his lead spinner for three overs. Also against India were the two sitters Lloyd spilled, along with whatever confidence he had left. And confidence is everything for a leg-spinner. “I wasn’t shattered, but it was disappointing,” he said. “It was not a great way to start off the tournament like that but I didn’t bowl too badly.”
Heading into the semi-final with record figures of 8/35 in his pocket, Pope probably now has enough confidence to power nuclear fission.
Loves the wrong ’un
Four of Pope’s eight wickets were claimed by his wrong ’un, his googly. If that seems like an unusually high proportion, it is. While most leg-spinners use their googly as a surprise delivery maybe once in two overs, Pope prefers to send down almost as many of those as leg spinners.
“It’s always been a part of my bowling, wrong ’uns, working on variations and new things in the nets,” he said. His second wicket, castling England captain Harry Brook first ball, was the big one, big as the gap between Brook’s flailing bat and pad as the googly ripped through; Brook was unbeaten in the entire tournament, with scores of 59*, 102* and 12*.
That hundred came against Bangladesh, whose spinners were met with assured footwork and often hit inside out over cover. Brook’s dismissal put Pope on a hat-trick, and although he didn’t get it, his eventual returns were even more game changing.
If Pope was finding edges, Australia skipper Jason Sangha was catching them. Sangha was the only batter to look assured when Australia batted, top-scoring with 58 when the next highest score was 16. And he looked just as bankable at slip, pulling off a stunning reflex catch to send back Tom Banton, who top scored for England.
Banton was the only batter who confidently employed the sweep against Pope, and looked very assured in his 53 ball knock. His dismissal was freakish; an edge parrying off the ‘keepers gloves to Sangha’s right, where he plucked it inches off the ground after initially moving the wrong way.
Every chance that went up was taken, including one that Sangha cradled more than caught. The catching had Australian certainty about it, which drew comparisons with caught-Taylor-bowled Warne.
“I don’t know about that,” said Lloyd, laughing. “[Sangha] had some outstanding catches, one handers; it was definitely great to have a good slip fielder.”
While comparisons to both greats are certainly premature, Sangha’s decision to bring Pope in at the five-over mark was as desperate as it was good. What followed was gold.
Despite the flowing auburn hair that you can’t miss and some good performances leading up to the tournament, Pope was a relatively unknown figure before this. He started his cricket in Cairns, when he tried leg-spin just for fun. His father encouraged him to pursue it. Once he moved to Adelaide, he spent more time on it. “Now I probably bowl two to three hours at training, that’s when I felt I’m as at my best, when I had numbers in my bowling at the nets.”
But his unfamiliarity with all the attention came through when he turned the colour of his hair as his teammates hooted at him while he was talking to the media. “It’s a little bit different. Normally you’re playing in clubs and the only people who congratulate you are your teammates. Weird to have a camera shoved in your face straight after it.”
But after Tuesday’s performance, it was not hard to see why those same teammates have given him the moniker they use when there are no cameras on: The Wizard.