Australia v South Africa, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 3rd day

Lyon transcends his figures

By varying his offbreak, Nathan Lyon can bowl six different balls without perceptible change of hand of wrist action. It is a skill that was vital for Australia in this match.

Daniel Brettig at Adelaide Oval

November 24, 2012

Comments: 30 | Text size: A | A

Nathan Lyon's first-innings figures at Adelaide Oval, 2 for 91, do not sound like much. They are in truth not far removed from the displays recorded by scorebooks for the Sheffield Shield matches Lyon played ahead of the Tests against South Africa, when inattentive observers had questioned his form and his place, despite a record after 13 Tests that was only mildly inferior to that of no less a spin bowler than Shane Warne himself.

The national selector John Inverarity, to name one more influential watcher, knew Lyon was bowling better than the digits, and he would prove that in Brisbane, improving as the Test went on. In Adelaide the bare figures only hinted at his effect on the innings, and the rhythm of Australia's attack. Next to the ghastly analysis returned by Lyon's opposite number Imran Tahir they were a beautiful set of numbers for Australia's captain Michael Clarke, and a critical element in closing down South Africa well short of the hosts' tall total.

Though there was turn and bounce to be extracted from the surface on days two and three, Lyon had to bowl with precision. Shortened boundaries due to the ground's redevelopment and the true nature of the pitch meant that any errors in length and line were likely to be punished severely. This reality had been underlined with the boldest ink possible by Tahir's travails on day one, when his mixed bag of leg-breaks, googlies and "buffet balls" had been feasted upon with as much enthusiasm as the Adelaide Oval faithful take to the marquees behind the Members stand.

The aggression, bordering on arrogance, with which the Australian batsmen took on Tahir recalled the way South Africa ended Bryce McGain's Test career in his first match. Graeme Smith has shown fleeting glimpses of learning how to shepherd his Pakistan-born tweaker, but on day one Tahir's sheer inconsistency made fields near impossible to set. His sorry final figures of 0 for 180 from 23 overs ensured Lyon would be well aware of how difficult his day might become if, on his home ground and in the week of his 25th birthday, he strayed from the exemplary control he has shown often over his young career so far.

Before the Test, much had been made of Lyon's back-spinning variation, the ball he had used to flummox Jacques Rudolph in Brisbane. Lyon had jokingly dubbed it "Jeff" in the nets, while Clarke referred mischievously to a doosra. But the most vital element of his success or otherwise in Adelaide was going to be his stock offspinner. One of the great Indian spin bowler Erapalli Prasanna's most revered nuggets of slow bowling wisdom declared that line is variable but length compulsory. A well-grooved stock ball is critical to living out such principles. Varying its line, pace and flight, Lyon's off break can be six different balls without perceptible change of hand of wrist action, and he was to demonstrate that neatly here.

Clarke had spoken glowingly of Lyon's efforts in Brisbane, when he was attacked on several occasions by the visitors but each time rebounded with wickets and better spells. Blessed to have a captain as well versed in spin bowling as Clarke, Lyon's capacity to attack and defend with the ball depending on how an innings has developed has grown over time. While the natural inclination of young spin bowlers when attacked is to spear the ball in flatter, the better-educated learn that keeping runs down is often a matter of fields as much as flight.

To this end, Lyon operated for most of the innings with an inner ring blocking the avenues for drives, while a slip and short leg or silly point sweated on edges or bouncing deliveries squeezed off bat and pad. It was the former placement that helped account for Rudolph for the third time in as many innings, lured out to drive airily to Rob Quiney at extra cover. This wicket, the first of day three, was influential in starting a South African subsidence of 5 for 17 - a passage that may well be considered the most pivotal of the Test after the visitors began the morning with the chance of closing in on Australia.

Lyon would go on to claim one more, Morne Morkel bowled around his legs by another off break that turned sharply, and significantly kept every batsman quiet. Not one South African was able to strike at better than 44 runs per 100 balls against Lyon, and this control was priceless for Clarke as he operated his faster men from the other end. Forty-four overs for 91 runs reiterated Lyon's value as a bowler adept and operations both containing and striking, and his stocks will rise exponentially in the second innings, when the pitch offers still greater bite.

Australia's batting stumble on the third evening provided confirmation that the surface was starting to deteriorate in the time-honoured Adelaide fashion, and offered hope of a realistic fourth innings chase for South Africa. For Australia to prevail Lyon will need to collect better figures than he managed in the first innings, but should he bowl to the standard that returned him that seemingly nondescript 2 for 91, wickets feel certain to follow.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by   on (November 24, 2012, 23:53 GMT)

Milhouse is clearly a plonker guys, don't rise to his shameful RandyOz-esque trolling! Lyon looked like yet another leftfield spin selection when pulled in from nowhere but has appeared the real deal so far in various conditions. The lack of quality spin cover probably makes Lyon the Aussies second most indispensible player at the mo after the imperious Clarke, and given the depth in solid pace options they have at the moment, probably the side's most important bowler. No point in saying the Aussies wouldn't deserve no.1 if they got there; we are in an era where all the top sides are a bit flawed (I thought the Saffas would hold it for a while but appear in trouble now) and will be very tough to beat at home. Back-to-back Ashes in 2013 should be very interesting given Australia's turnaround under Clarke!

Posted by Moppa on (November 24, 2012, 23:26 GMT)

@Milhouse79, no, lamely criticising a team that is generally outplaying the number 1 ranked team in the world to get over your own sour grapes for being soundly beaten at home by that same number 1 team is sad, really...

Posted by Andrew202 on (November 24, 2012, 22:42 GMT)

I find it absolutely amazing how behind Nathan Lyon the media are and, yet, how vehemently they attacked Nathan Hauritz. In my view Lyon has nothing more to offer than Hauritz had but for some reason he gets the total support from the media.

The guy is mediocre. All he's got going for him is that he's economical, which is the best the Aussies can hope for out of a spinner these days.

Posted by Shaggy076 on (November 24, 2012, 22:26 GMT)

Milhouse79 - You could also refer to the Australian team that thrashed India at home, West Indies and Sri Lanka away and drew with South Africa awayall in the last couple of years. It is a resurgent Australia - currently looking like going ahead in the test series against the world number 1 South Africa. Yes Warne, MCgrath, Gilchrist and Hayden were champions but the current team are winning there fair share of games. As for the 20/20 stats, yes although it was true it is a joke. Australia do not play a lot of 20/20 and the last two world cups where they have played the finals and semi finals puts them in the top two. Hilfenhaus test record over the last 12 months have been exceptional, Lyon record is as good as most off spinners that have played the game. Your comments just shriek of jealousy.

Posted by Meety on (November 24, 2012, 22:06 GMT)

I had some doubts about Lyon's pre-Test form, although I knew one of the matches at Adelaide he had about 3 dropped catches off his bowling, so I wasn't looking for anyone else. His career is now long enough to say that he IS at least a good Test spinner. He has done far more at 25 years of age than Swann had done at the same time. Swann is Lyon's benchmark (essentially similar types of offies - acknowledging Ajmal as the best in the world atm), & Lyon's stats measure up well. His r/rate of 2 rpo when 2 days earlier the Saffas got taken for 5.5 over a whole day - is brilliant. Without a doubt, Lyon is well respected by the Saffa batsmen - probably feared/loathed by Rudolph!!!!

Posted by Vishnu27 on (November 24, 2012, 21:59 GMT)

Put it this way Milhouse79: I'd rather be rumbled for 47 by SA, than run through by a pitiful West Indies outfit for 51 (2009). How quickly we forget.

Posted by Chris_P on (November 24, 2012, 21:29 GMT)

@ Peterincanada, Agree totally. I was fortunate enough to watch a test in Adelaide for the first time & he looked very dangerous. He was getting sharp turn & bounce, and let us not forget how well he went last season against India's accomplished batsmen, well renowned for their play against spin.

Posted by Jaffa79 on (November 24, 2012, 21:24 GMT)

The fact the Aussies are crowing about a bowler who got 2-91 shows how they now celebrate mediocrity. 10 years ago Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist, Hayden. Now it is Lyon, Hilfenhaus, Wade and Quiney. If you think this average skilled mob are no 1 then fair play to you Jarod! In the last few years, Australia have lost 4-0 in England, been rolled by the Kiwis to draw with them at home, lost Ashes series home and away, been bowled out for 47 and been ranked below Ireland in the T20. Trading on former glories. Sad really.

Posted by Peterincanada on (November 24, 2012, 20:46 GMT)

This is a true and fair article written by someone who saw the match. Intelligent comments from most of the posters and some rubbish from the usual suspects who likely didn't see the match. I think he will do a lot of bowling in the second knock and will do just fine.

Posted by   on (November 24, 2012, 16:11 GMT)

Mikey, even if the picture you paint is accurate, (which I don't) how is it that we are playing for top spot? If England are so good why are they on the way down? Because they are a fading force. Strauss is woeful, England had the skills but have lost the confidence. Australia have some issues but lets just say confidence is an Aussie trait and in due course we will be back on top. Where does the confidence come from this time? Let's have a look at the last few series. Demolished India, had SA on the ropes at the Gabba but for a lost day and still looking the money to win this one. Not sure why everyone is looking for the next Shane Warne! He was great but there were times he was ordinary. We were beating the English well with Tim May in the side long before Warney came along.

Posted by popcorn on (November 24, 2012, 15:42 GMT)

At last! Australia's search for a front line spinner is well and truly over. Nathan Lyon has proven himself EVERY Test he has played.

Posted by SpadeaSpade on (November 24, 2012, 14:59 GMT)

How bloody hard a judge can some people on this forum be. Surely anyone who has watched Lyon can see the potential there, Comparisons to Warne are as futile as comparing rookie batsmen with the DON !!!.

Clarke's captaincy to the spinners is first rate and Lyons current test figures look pretty good to me for an off spinner. Get behind the bloke , after all he may yet bowl us to victory.

Go Aussie

Posted by AngryAngy on (November 24, 2012, 14:54 GMT)

Really, he bowled 0/54 in 24 overs on day 2 with the wicket pretty still pretty flat and 2/37 in his last 20 overs on day 3. In other words he was tight enough initially and things only got more grave as the pitch took turn. Only 22 scoring shots were played to Lyon by the South African batsmen batting 4 or lower. That could be an immense problem in the 4th innings.

Posted by   on (November 24, 2012, 13:34 GMT)

I'm a big fan. 91 runs from 44 overs. That's pretty amazing. He seems to bring an x factor to the team

Posted by   on (November 24, 2012, 13:11 GMT)

Should have had Smith stumped, too. If nothing else we can be pretty certain he is going to knock over Rudolph twice every match... lol Considering his age and experience he is going to get much better too!

Posted by Marcio on (November 24, 2012, 12:54 GMT)

Lyon has been excellent. His real test will come in the SA's second innings, where AUS will rely heavily on him. If he can't get wickets on a deteriorating track then he'll cop a lot of flack.

Posted by   on (November 24, 2012, 12:44 GMT)

Lyon may never be Warne with the ball in terms of amount of spin and sheer weight of personality on the pitch but mentally he's shown that he has a fair amount of tactical nous at his disposal. I think he's a good player and will improve with greater experience.

Posted by hhillbumper on (November 24, 2012, 12:34 GMT)

it is true about his figures not showing how good he is.If anything I would say his figures flatter him immensely

Posted by Bonehead_maz on (November 24, 2012, 11:54 GMT)

Thought He bowled ok again - always seems to :) Wish he got out curve, but love his loop.

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (November 24, 2012, 11:38 GMT)

On a spinner's wicket, 2-91 shows what a club-level bowler Lyon is.

Australia - find someone, anyone, who can spin the ball and give them a chance!

Posted by Behind_the_bowlers_arm on (November 24, 2012, 11:37 GMT)

mikey, you may wish to speak to Tahir about this 'spinners wicket'. Lyon has looked better each time Ive seen him and is learning which is a key thing for a 25 yo spinner. Of course he will never be another Warne but he ,as said, has reacted well to the SA tactic of trying to hit him out of the attack. The next 2 days will be big ones for him as Clarke will be looking for him to make a big contribution to Australia taking 10 wickets.

Posted by mikey76 on (November 24, 2012, 11:35 GMT)

Jarod you have two back to back ashes series coming up. You have two fine batsman in Clarke and Hussey papering over the cracks of a woeful top 6. The bowling of Hilfenhaus and Siddle is pedestrian and one dimensional. Your best all rounder Watson is always injured as are your best quick bowlers, and your wicketkeeper is a liability. As for Lyon, after we've been battle hardened in India his little tweakers ain't gonna give KP or Cookie any sleepless nights. Your recent record in ashes contests isn't anything to be proud of so I don't see where all this confidence comes from?

Posted by Badgerofdoom on (November 24, 2012, 11:28 GMT)

Lyon is what he is, a decent spinner who can provide control but won't be bowling that many Jaffers. Fair play to him, I thought he had no chance when he came in to test cricket with so little experience but he's done pretty well. The comparison with Tahir is a little flattering as Tahir just bowled one of the worst spells in test history, has anyone ever come away with worse figures than 23-0-180-0? Career ending stuff.

Posted by Winsome on (November 24, 2012, 10:59 GMT)

Mikey, why don't you compare how many first class matches Swann and Monty have played before you make claims like you have. Lyon is learning how to bowl at first class level in test matches. He bowled beautifully in the first innings. It was very impressive to see from such an inexperienced bowler.

Posted by Dangertroy on (November 24, 2012, 10:25 GMT)

He is never going to be the next Shane warne. He's the first Nathan Lyon. Can't wait to see how he does in the last innings.

Posted by Shaggy076 on (November 24, 2012, 10:22 GMT)

Adelaide is a ground where opposition teams can easily get away once the cricket ball goes old and as such you need to restrict runs and wait for the wickets. Australia batted 16 overs left than South Africa yet scored 160 more runs and believe Lyon has to be commended for how he bowled. The good news is he seems to be improving all the time. Mikey I believe your comment was completely unwarranted and you should wait for them to play in the same series before you can judge.

Posted by gibboj on (November 24, 2012, 10:06 GMT)

@mikey76 good to know that being 8th or 9th best in the world makes you a club level spinner. Also a spinners wicket where the spinners from both teams have so far taken a combined total of 2 for 271?

Posted by Slysta on (November 24, 2012, 9:37 GMT)

LOL @ mikey76. How many club bowlers have two bags of 5 among 48 wickets @ 30 in their first 15 Tests? He's ahead of Panesar at the same stage, and looks a better bowler as well. Of course he's not Warne - no-one ever will be - and he might not even prove to be as good as Swann, but he's much better than Hauritz, and England will underestimate him over the next 18 months at their peril. And Adelaide isn't that much of a spinner's wicket the first three days: 2/91 off 44 overs might not sounds that great, but put it next to Imran Tahir's 0/180 off 23 overs on the same surface, and we'll take it, thanks very much.

Posted by   on (November 24, 2012, 9:19 GMT)

Ah mikey76 read the article again mate, look at the stats (i.e. on par with Warne) and repost. Just another Pom nervous of Aussie reclaiming it's rightful number 1 ranking? Never fear mate it's going to happen and when it does we'll hang on to it a lot longer than your crew.

Posted by mikey76 on (November 24, 2012, 8:50 GMT)

Australians clutching at straws to find the successor to Warne. 2/91 on a spinners wicket is hardly a great feat. He's a club bowler by any standards, meanwhile in India Swann has gone past 200 test wickets in just his 47th test and Monty has bagged another five for and is closing in on 150 scalps. Lyon lurks somewhere at no.8 or 9 in the worlds best spinner category. Average.

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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