Lyon and Clarke spin web together
For the first time since Shane Warne's retirement in 2007, it is possible to conclude that Australia have found a spin bowler capable of commanding international respect. Six Tests into his career, the quietly spoken Nathan Lyon has plucked 19 wickets from Sri Lanka, South Africa and New Zealand, and marked his first home match with handsome figures of 7 for 88 in Brisbane.
Critical to Lyon's success is the fact that for the first time since Mark Taylor's exit in 1999, Australia have a Test captain with a genuinely sympathetic and aggressive attitude to spin bowling. Steve Waugh often preferred to batter his opponents with pace, marginalising Warne, and Ricky Ponting never quite managed to find the right approach to the bevy of spinners tried in his teams. But Michael Clarke has shown empathy, sharpness and imagination in his use of Lyon, and the 24-year-old is now flourishing. It seems the start of a beautiful friendship.
"He's a great fella," Clarke said of Lyon after completing victory over New Zealand. "He's got a lot of talent. He bowled with beautiful shape out of his hand and he's learning every day. He's a great guy to have around the group. His enthusiasm is something that not everybody provides in a team. I really love seeing him have success. He's working hard. It's nice to see someone working so hard have some success."
The work done by Lyon, nicknamed "Gaz" has been aided by Clarke's belief in spin's role as a key component of the attack, and by the field settings he has concocted for the young bowler. Clarke's use of angles in the field, the near-constant presence of close-in fielders, and the placement of mid-off and mid-on in positions to challenge opponents to loft Lyon over their heads, has shown his delight in setting traps for unwary batsmen.
"He's pretty open minded and doesn't stress too much about the field placements I have," Clarke said of Lyon. "That's probably been really good for me knowing that he can be consistent with his line and length, and I can attack more with the fields or defend at the right times. He's been great to work with. He'll continue to get better."
Success in Sri Lanka and South Africa showed Lyon's versatility and resilience, while wickets against New Zealand have demonstrated exactly how predatory he can be in the right circumstances. Ahead lies a Test on a Hobart surface less likely to offer bounce, and four matches against India's spin-conversant top-six. Clarke will continue to shepherd his bowler with care.
"There'll be tough times no doubt. We'll probably see that in Hobart on a flatter wicket," Clarke said. "Against India, who are very good players of spin bowling. So as long as the expectation from outside stays consistent, I think Gaz will be fine.
"He knows there's going to be some tough times. Hobart is a tough place to bowl spin. And India, when we come to them, are a tough opposition to bowl spin to. He will have success, no doubt, but it's a long journey for Gaz now. It's about making the most of the opportunities."
Another man who helped Lyon's progress this week was Mickey Arthur, the new coach. Arthur foresaw a greater role for Lyon in Brisbane in a four-man attack, and said so. Lyon responded to the encouragement, and Clarke said Arthur had already been of great help to the team room.
"He's taken a lot off my plate for sure," Clarke said. "It's fantastic that Mickey is on board though because his knowledge and experience as a coach is as good as anyone I've played under. He's had some success in South Africa. He's a gentleman. He's a wonderful man to be around, especially for the youngsters.
"He will continue to teach them a lot about life and a lot about respect and how you should treat people and that's probably what I already like so much about Mickey is that he treats people in the right way. He's such a gentleman. As a coach, he'll continue to provide us with great information, great knowledge, but he's going to help us a lot off the field as well. I think we're in really good hands to be honest."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo