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November 21, 2012
If Nathan Lyon's growing confidence was summed up by the back-spinner he unleashed to dismiss Jacques Rudolph in Brisbane, his valued place in Australian cricket can be measured by how carefully the national team is building a support network around him.
Ahead of the Adelaide Test match, Lyon was advised on bowling by the former Australian spin bowler Ashley Mallett, but not directly. Instead, Mallett had discussions with the senior coach Mickey Arthur, who passed Mallett's advice along to Lyon and also Steve Rixon, who has been appointed as the designated spin coach to allow the other specialist bowling coach Ali de Winter time to work purely with the pacemen.
As the season began, Lyon had spoken of how difficult he had found sorting through a myriad of advice during his first year as an international bowler, whether it had arrived via friends, the media or other bowlers and coaches simply calling him up at random to state what he was doing wrong. Eager for Lyon to learn but equally keen to ensure he is not overloaded with voices, Arthur, Rixon and South Australia's coach Darren Berry have worked assiduously to make sure Lyon's path is consistently defined.
"We're filtering it through the people he knows best," Arthur told ESPNcricinfo. "Darren Berry and SA have done a really good job with him, Steve Rixon within my support staff is a really experienced coach and has been very good with him as well. They've built a good relationship so he's been monitoring those messages, and I wanted to have a chat with Ashley Mallett because he's so knowledgeable on spin bowling and he confirmed what we were doing with Nathan. So I opened up a nice little communication channel there.
"I just asked Ashley if he had anything he could mention to me. I've designated Steve Rixon within our squad as working with Nathan and I'm really happy they've got a good relationship going. Our messages are very consistent with the messages of Darren Berry. Everybody is saying exactly the same thing and that's the message being delivered to Nathan within our team. That to me is really important, that the players are getting the same messages and not a conflicting message."
No one was more delighted to see an Australian spinner benefit from his expanded repertoire than his captain Michael Clarke, who has shown an instinctive feel for leading slow bowlers from the moment he dived to pouch the sharpest of slip catches from Lyon's first ball in Test cricket, against Sri Lanka in Galle last year. In addition to knowing the value of spin bowling, Clarke also finds a great deal of fun in it, and the twinkle in his eye when he spoke of Lyon's variation could only have come from someone who has bowled spin for years himself.
"Well, we're calling it a doosra more than a back-spinner," Clarke said, grinning. "It's something he's worked on and it was nice to see him get a wicket with it [in the] last Test match, so hopefully we'll see him get plenty more wickets for Australia with balls spinning in both directions.
"He can contain if he has to and we can dictate that by the fields we have, but then if there's an opportunity for Nathan to put more pressure on the [batsmen] I think he's got the skill to be able to do that as well. He's bowling well, I thought he came back really well in Brisbane and that shows his character.
"I know he wants to do well in front of his home crowd, but as I've said to Nathan plenty of times he needs to keep doing exactly what he's doing, don't change a thing and he'll continue to have success at the highest level."
South Africa's batsmen have now tried several times to hit Lyon out of Australia's attack in the manner they took to Bryce McGain in Cape Town in 2009, but each time the bowler has responded with better subsequent spells and important wickets. The touring captain Graeme Smith noted Lyon's importance to this match with a good degree of respect.
"Nathan has proven to be a solid performer for Australia. That's exactly how we view him," Smith said. "We haven't taken an arrogant view of him, maybe some other people have. We respect what he is capable of and he will play a role in this game."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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