Advice avalanche sent Lyon spinning
Entering a second summer as Australia's No. 1 spinner, Nathan Lyon has revealed his struggles to deal with the avalanche of bowling advice fired his way across the first 12 months of his time in the Test team.
One of the side-effects of Lyon's rapid rise from obscurity to the national team was that many glimpsed his bowling for the first time in Test matches. A return of 42 wickets at 27.83 from 13 Tests suggests Lyon had a decent enough idea of how to bowl but everyone, it seemed, had an opinion on how he might do better.
During the summer Lyon was incredulous to find himself being called by strangers advising him of how to gain better results against India's batsmen. Then, amid a difficult Australia A tour of England on which Lyon's bowling became "muddled" in the words of the national selector John Inverarity, it is believed he was even offered technical suggestions by Mitchell Johnson.
Having shown signs in the recent Sheffield Shield match against Tasmania of a return to the tantalising loop, curve and spin that first won him a national spot, Lyon said he was now very careful about who he listened to, keeping the counsel of a small group including the South Australia coach Darren Berry and the spin coaches Craig Howard and John Davison.
"It's been pretty difficult to be honest with you," Lyon told ESPNcricinfo. "To come into the thing and no-one say anything at the start, then come seven Tests you have people ringing you up and stuff. I've been fortunate to have Darren Berry and Craig Howard and John Davison on my side, and having that close unit together, really being able to work with each other.
"We've got that little group there where we all trust each other and are on the same page heading in the right direction. Everyone has their own opinion and stuff, but I've really tried to block that out and just worry about working with the people I really trust and know where my game is at and where I need to get to. I just rely on Darren Berry, Craig Howard and John Davison now really."
Inverarity was concerned by what he saw of Lyon in England, where he was outdone by the Victorian left-arm spinner Jon Holland. However the national selectors are determined to persist with Lyon, given the significant role he played a critical junctures of the past year, not least in Sri Lanka, the West Indies and also South Africa, where he took vital wickets in both innings of the epic Johannesburg Test.
"We hold Nathan in very high regard, he's a bowler with a lovely action, he gets drop and bounce and turn," Inverarity said. "For six months he got a bit muddled and he didn't bowl well on the A tour, and he didn't bowl well in Brisbane [against Queensland]. But in Adelaide he bowled much better.
"On the first day of the Shield game against Tasmania he bowled 30 overs, 0 for 90 in round figures. He got [Mark] Cosgrove dropped at mid-on, chest-high. He had [Alex] Doolan mistiming one to point and dropped, he had [Ricky] Ponting missed stumping. So he's got 3 for 50 let's say, and he might've picked up another couple. You can't do much more than deceive someone in flight and they hit it chest high to mid-on."
The ebb and flow of Lyon's rhythm is something the Australian hierarchy is prepared to roll with for a time, aware that Test matches account for exactly half of his 26 first-class appearances to date. Inverarity offered parallels with the young fast bowler James Pattinson, who has shown himself to be a bowler of great destructive capability at his peak, but one of rather more modest results when rhythm and swing prove elusive.
"You'll often see with fast bowlers it can often be little technical things … with Nathan he had a lovely rhythm and good drop and bounce and turn," Inverarity said. "For whatever reason he lost it, lost his rhythm, and he got frustrated and then I think he was running in to bowl and he was thinking about where his front arm was and he was falling short. He's practised now and is concentrating on where he's landing it.
"James Pattinson last December bowled superbly, and in Brisbane last week he bowled fast, he swung it, was accurate, he was terrific. In the West Indies and England he was not the same bowler, he was very ordinary. He lost pace and rhythm and was ordinary. So these things happen, particularly with young bowlers."
Irrespective of where his advice is coming from, Lyon knows he must keep improving so as to grow into a more senior member of Australia's bowling attack. It will help that he has a battery of high class fast bowlers around him, plus a captain in Michael Clarke who has the right sense of how best to use spin as an attacking weapon.
"Personal results always help, but we've really got a solid bowling group at the moment," Lyon said. "We've got quality fast bowlers, probably the best in the world at the moment, and it's really good working closely with Michael Clarke, he's fantastic and just being able to know my role has been a massive help over the last 12 months.
"Being able to play in 13 Tests and being involved in 14 Tests was unbelievable. I'm pretty grateful for all the opportunities I've had, but I really need to grab the ones that come my way this summer and really try to move forward, keep trying to improve and keep trying to win games of cricket for Australia."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here