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Advice avalanche sent Lyon spinning

Daniel Brettig

October 18, 2012

Comments: 38 | Text size: A | A

Nathan Lyon bowls in the nets, Adelaide Oval, January 21, 2012
Nathan Lyon now relies on advice from a select group of coaches © Getty Images

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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Chris_P on (October 19, 2012, 8:18 GMT)

I do enjoy going to the Gabba with my mates, been doing it since 1998 with a trip to Hobart when Punter got a double ton! As for my injury, being Captain I can play & field myself where I want. So far, 2 matches, didn't bat in game one as we were chasing a small total, then an undefeated 53 (I open) chasing 129 in a one dayer plus 2 catches in slips. But the knee is troubling (not hitting enough boundaries!)so am sharing the captaincy. Even giving myself the odd over or 2 !

Posted by zenboomerang on (October 19, 2012, 4:53 GMT)

As for Philander being called a great, even if he plays in every Test match until 2017 (&32y.o.) he will have only have played 50 Tests, which would be a minimum for most people in describing a players career record... Gillespie played 71 Tests & I wouldn't put him in the great catagory but I consider him a better bowler, though time will tell...

Posted by Meety on (October 19, 2012, 2:55 GMT)

@Chris_P on (October 19 2012, 00:45 AM GMT) - see you at the Gabba, going Day 1. As far as the injury, I've been lucky this season so far - I play Village cricket so my season has basically just finished! Regarding MJ - he really is everybody's whipping boy! As far as world's worst spinners I would of had Blackwell in that list but then I remember back to our A-tour & I think I'll just shut up!

Posted by PFEL on (October 19, 2012, 0:46 GMT)

I was under the impression that the passage about Mitchell Johnston offering technical advice was a joke. And a pretty funny one. It is surprising to see so many serious responses.

Posted by Chris_P on (October 19, 2012, 0:45 GMT)

@Meety, Yep, agreed, why it was even included is beyond me, probably to gain a reaction (which it did!). I am hoping the time before now & the first test is used wisely by Lyons, you just can't lose the style that has worked for you for so long. He was an integral part of the attack when selected (understand why he wasn't selected for Perth, which btw, probably finished Kreja's career). If we ever get another Colin Miller type of bowler who mixed up both pace & spin, Perth would be perfect. Got my tickets, time off, ready for the Gabba, & also going to the Adelaide test as well, so my own cricket is only going to be part season for me (still got a niggling knee injury so need a break).

Posted by Moppa on (October 18, 2012, 23:31 GMT)

@Gizza, I'm pretty sure there weren't penalties for slow over rates back in the Windies' heyday. I think they came in during the 1990s.

Posted by Chris_P on (October 18, 2012, 22:58 GMT)

@RednWhiteArmy. Now that's rich coming from a country that produced Hemmings, Giles, Tufnell, Emburey, Dawson et all who spun it less than I currently do!! LOL.

Posted by Meety on (October 18, 2012, 22:54 GMT)

@Gizza on (October 18 2012, 08:52 AM GMT) - btw - on the topic of how did the WIndies do it? The answer is - they didn't!!!! On the rare occassions that they didn't bowl the opposition out in a day, they struggled to get 75 overs in. I remember many a match would go an hour or so overtime when they were bowling. The WIndies style led to minimum overs laws. It really was a part of their mental disintigration of opposing teams as even if you were scoring at 3 rpo - you would barely be scoring 70 runs a session. @Chris_P on (October 18 2012, 21:08 PM GMT) - really not sure why MJ's name was raised in the article when it is termed " is believed he was even offered technical suggestions..." - believed? Either he did or he didn't, either a genuine source told him or its a bit of gossip, or maybe a false throw a way line where someone says "Ah even MJ was telling him to change his grip" Dunno, wouldn't want to report something like that unless I had it first hand!

Posted by RJHB on (October 18, 2012, 22:53 GMT)

Disappointing to hear of Lyon's troubles, and concerning to hear of all the would be do gooders offering him advice, qualified or not. Like other posters here I'm astounded Johnson has the gumption to offer anyone advice, let alone a spinner! That guy never could shutup! I'm also disappointed that neither of our great spinners from the recent past, Warne or MacGill, seem to be greatly involved in coaching. I know atleast Warne has done some part time development work I think at the AIS, but even though they were leggies, Australia badly needs them more involved at every level with all spinners.If only Warne could mentor a young kid like he benefited from Terry Jenner. And to those proclaiming the virtues of an all pace attack, you seem to be completely ignorant of a couple of significant facts: 1. Only one team has ever been successful with 4 fast men over a length of time- WI. 2. Captains cannot get away with bowling only 12 overs an hour these days, like the Windies did with 4 quicks

Posted by Meety on (October 18, 2012, 22:46 GMT)

@Wefinishthis on (October 18 2012, 11:43 AM GMT) - fair enough, but the fact is M Hussey had maintained his stats for over 20 tests. I just think it's way too early to make those calls about him. Cummins has an ave of 16 & Patto around 19, I think the conditions that Phillander has played in has suited him & whilst I expect him to be menacing in Oz, I would genuinely be surprised if he finishes with a series average below 25 (still VERY good). @Gizza on (October 18 2012, 08:52 AM GMT) - good points, the over rates almost demand a spinner, whilst these days bowlers don't seem to have the long run up of days gone by, the UDRS means that sides struggle to bowl 14 of the required 15 overs per hour at the best of time. That said, I think Oz would be picking a spinner primarily as a wicket taking option - particularly against the Saffa tail.Also with possibly a drier summer than previous few years, I would imagine a spinner will be very handy over Days 4 & 5 across the country.

Posted by RednWhiteArmy on (October 18, 2012, 21:57 GMT)

Easily the worlds worst spinner

Posted by Chris_P on (October 18, 2012, 21:08 GMT)

@Meety. Agree with you about Lyons.If it were Mallet or May offering advice, no issue, but everyone else? Hopefully, he can get his act back to where he was, as he was producing solid figures, & this included stints against Sri Lanka over there & against India, acknowledged the best players of spin.

Posted by gogoldengreens on (October 18, 2012, 19:01 GMT)

Mitch Johnson stand in spin coach... No wonder his mind was scambled - Mich a spinner can pitch it wide and it can turn in unlike your ball that starts wide than swings wider

Posted by Front-Foot_lunge on (October 18, 2012, 16:48 GMT)

Gilly4Ever - while the prospect of bowling 4 quick is tantalising,the west indies did it by having either Carl Hooper or having Sir Viv turning his arm over. Would you want to risk Watson for those duties? I don't see who else there is? However, I wish my England would be in a position to have this problem....after all, all we've got is Anderson, a B-grade net bowler who's purple patch has come to an end.

Posted by Beertjie on (October 18, 2012, 14:16 GMT)

I'm with you, @Dashgar, but the guy to take us to the next level may be Boyce. Just don't rush him, please, or someone will get after him just like Shastri got after Warne two decades ago.

Posted by Wefinishthis on (October 18, 2012, 11:43 GMT)

zenboomerang, I'm not sure why you think I missed the last series because it doesn't seem that you've disagreed with my original point. I agree that Cummins and Lyon are our strengths. They were the only reason we were competitive in SA (besides a freakish Michael Clarke innings). Yes Australia will have a different bowling squad, but the they will again pick Siddle and Uselesshaus which means only 1 of our 3 best bowlers in Pattinson, Cummins and Harris will get a go. Meety, read again. I said he is ON TRACK to being the Bradman of bowling, just like Hussey was on track to being the next Bradman in his career. Don't underestimate Philander's experience either, 353 first class wickets at under 19.5 is outstanding and we're fortunate the SA selectors took so long to pick him. Dashgar, Pattinson and Steyn isn't really a fair comparison yet, but I hope you're right. jonesy2 - agree completely about lyon, he's actually no.1 in strike rate!

Posted by Batmanian on (October 18, 2012, 11:01 GMT)

Wasn't terribly much talk of Johnson becoming the new McGrath, Sudharsan. Nor of Lee doing the same, even though he surprised many by doing so to some extent in the the short forms. Same problem matching up to Warne's centrality; no-one comes close. I think India will have the same problem looking for another Tendulkar (and they will feel they have to). Tendulkar gets called a records hog and average guarder and so forth; imagine how much worse it will be for someone trying to establish themselves for a similar pivotal role?

Posted by SudharsanVM on (October 18, 2012, 10:20 GMT)

So no more Talks of Johnson being the spearahead and senior of AUS pace attactk?!

Posted by Dashgar on (October 18, 2012, 9:46 GMT)

@Wefinishthis, Pattinson currently has a better Test average than Steyn. He's maybe played 1 or 2 below par games while he's juggled injuries. He looks 100% this season and will get some serious bags of wickets. Already has 1 shield 6 for and don't be surprise if he gets a few 5fors in the tests as well. Philander has started tremendously in his career but I have a feeling the world will work him out in time. He just doesn't have the arsenal to keep up those numbers. Aus pitches will test him.

Posted by Gizza on (October 18, 2012, 8:52 GMT)

@ Gilly4ever, I dunno how the late 70's/80's/early 90's West Indies managed but most teams these days need a spinner even on the WACA just get to boost the over rate. Having said that, part-timers can do the job too. I don't think Clarke will bowl himself as much since he's the captain and especially for a job like boosting the over rates. Cowan doesn't bowl. Ponting, Hussey and Watson are all medium pace.Warner can bowl leggies but Australia will need batsmen who have cemented their spots but can bowl some spin.

Posted by Nightwing32 on (October 18, 2012, 8:01 GMT)

Listening to Mitch? Really? I mean come on.


Posted by jonesy2 on (October 18, 2012, 7:58 GMT)

lyon is one of the best spinners in the world, probably second behind ajmal. australia's bowling attack is so much better than south africa's. just to educate the ignorant. the only SA bowler who would get a game for Aus is steyn

Posted by Ozcricketwriter on (October 18, 2012, 7:10 GMT)

Australia have amazing fast bowlers, and amazing depth. So why not go with 4 fast bowlers ALL THE TIME? West Indies did it well enough in the 70s and 80s, so why not? We have enough batsmen who bowl spin to cover any gaps, with the likes of Steve Smith, Steve O'Keefe, Michael Clarke, David Hussey and Cameron White all at the top of their games. Forgot Nathan Lyon. Forget ALL OF THEM. The fact is that right now we don't have a world class spinner. So let's just play 4 pacers until such a time as we come across one.

Posted by kickittome70 on (October 18, 2012, 7:05 GMT)

I look at my beloved Aussie team and ask myself "if the spinners available are not the top shelf, and we have masses of great seamers - why not pick 4 quicks?" - You'd think that Siddle, Hilfenhaus and Pattinson are locked in. The argument for 4 quicks is a sound one purely based on a Cummins or Starc or Hazlewood versus Lyon. A structural issue in the aussie team is that skipper Clarkes back is an injury risk so we a lacking a spin option. So we really should look at the next bat in the top 6 being able to bowl a bit. Huss should open with Warner (he's Australia's most consistent batsman and has been for some time). Cowan should be jettisoned. Who is batting well in Sheffield Shield who can bowl spin - I dont know. Imagine if Henriques, M.Marsh or Faulkner could bowl spin? Their future would be assured.

Posted by HatsforBats on (October 18, 2012, 6:21 GMT)

@Wefinishthis; I don't think anyone really expects Philander to maintain a test average of 15. There's no doubting the quality of Steyn, but Philander one of the greatest of all time? He's played 10 test matches, lets give it some time before we start comparing him to the likes of McGrath & Ambrose. Likewise, lets not compare young blokes like Starc who are in the infancy of their first class careers to veterans like Philander. Can't wait to see him in action in Aus though.

Posted by AngryAngy on (October 18, 2012, 5:56 GMT)

Depends how you cut it. Steyn and Philander are a great pair, but a lot of South Africa's fortunes ride on them both playing. Yeah you might say Harris, Siddle, Hilfenhaus, Pattinson, Cummins and Starc are not as good or not yet as good, but if you plough through the top six South African bowlers, you're going to hit either Tsotsobe or Parnell, which is a bit disappointing.

Posted by Meety on (October 18, 2012, 3:57 GMT)

@Wefinishthis on (October 18 2012, 02:57 AM GMT) - mate what a lot of garbage, you don't normally say stuff like that. Equating Phillander to being the Bradman of bowling (even allowing for the "unlikely" disclaimer) after just a handful of tests is massively jumping the gun. There is no doubt that Steyn is the best in the world & due to his vastly superior experience to Phillander it can be supposed that he may well go down as a great. It should easily be deduced that Lyon is talking about his squad of pacers, to which he has a point, BASED on AVERAGES in Tests since 2007 (over 5 years with a minimum 20 wickets), there are 2 Ozzys & 2 Saffas with the best averages. 1. Phillander - 16, 2. Pattinson - 19, 3. Steyn - 22, 4. Harris - 24. The next best current Saffa is Morkel in 32nd place, then Kallis in 50th. Whereas Oz have Bollinger 7th (remember him?), Watson 14th AND then "Uselesshaus" in 18th. BTW Lyon is 15th v Tahir 71st. Everybody's fav. whipping boy Mitch J has stats = to Morkel

Posted by zenboomerang on (October 18, 2012, 3:49 GMT)

@Daniel Brettig - fairly weird article... So Lyon says that he got advice from everyone after a few Tests, then "but I've really tried to block that out and just worry about working with the people I really trust" - so he hasn't really listened to anyone but his coaches... Then his form falls apart for no outwardly obvious reason - maybe winter blues (who knows?) or just a lack of cricket out in the middle... Seems to be getting back to his normal form & style now, so everything is looking good for the 1st Test in 2 weeks time... Must be a slow news week - :P...

Posted by zenboomerang on (October 18, 2012, 3:47 GMT)

@Wefinishthis... Perhaps you missed the last Test series against the Saafa's?... Watson a 5-for, Cummins a 6-for, Lyon 4 wkts in the 2nd Test... Hilfenhaus didn't tour... Johnson managed just 3 wkts in 2 Tests... Harris wasn't in form... No Pattinson... Oz will have a different bowling squad - much like our last summer squad + Watson this time around... Guess I will have to wait & see how both teams bowlers do over 3 Tests before commenting on the various strenghts - glad you have a crystal ball to make your posts more interesting...

Posted by Wefinishthis on (October 18, 2012, 2:57 GMT)

I like his optimism, but he's wrong. Australia's fast bowlers are not the best in the world. Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander are light-years ahead of every other bowler in the world right now. They're the new Akram/Waqar combination of what is probably SA's best ever team. Both of them will go down amongst the greatest of all time, Philander, although unlikely, is on track to become the Bradman of bowling. Can anyone honestly say the same about Starc, Johnson, Siddle or Uselesshaus? I doubt it. Pattinson and Cummins are the closest we have right now to potential greatness, but they require a little more consistency and a lot more time before we can start talking about that. So Lyon is wrong. It's actually himself who is one of the world's best bowlers. He's no Warne, but an argument could be made that he's the best test spinner in the world right now. Really, Ponting should sit this series out, he'll be lucky to get 20 runs and why isn't Kurtis Patterson getting more shield experience?

Posted by Dubious on (October 18, 2012, 2:25 GMT)

If I were Lyon I'd be suggesting that Mitchell Johnson focused on landing it on the pitch before offering others technical advice.

Posted by HatsforBats on (October 18, 2012, 2:14 GMT)

It is tremendously encouraging to hear a national selector speak candidly, also heartening to hear the high regard in which Lyon is held. He shows great promise and with 42 @ 27 has done everything asked of him. It will be great to see him get a long run in the test team and watch his skills develop.

Posted by Stubbzie on (October 18, 2012, 1:40 GMT)

Mitchell Johnson giving bowling advice?? Bah hahahahahahahahaha that's hilarious!!

Posted by jahinoz on (October 18, 2012, 1:37 GMT)

Mitchell Johnson should probably take some advice on how to bowl consistently before handing out advice on spin bowling... in addition, Lyon's a good spinner, the poor Australian spinners take most of the criticism as selectors are trying to find a spinner who can fill the void left by Shane Warne, which frankly, isn't likely to happen for a long time to come.

Posted by nthuq on (October 18, 2012, 1:36 GMT)

Hopefully this guy will be able to take more top order wickets as he progresses this summer. Though with Philander and Steyn's all-round abilities awakening, his tail-mopping abilities will be useful too.

Posted by stickboy on (October 18, 2012, 1:28 GMT)

lol, advice from mitchell johnson about an action, especially right arm offspin. i really do hope that this article was highlighting his name due to the absurdity of that.

Posted by Dashgar on (October 18, 2012, 0:27 GMT)

Sounds like Lyon is doing well by himself. He should definitely play in the first test and at Adelaide vs the Saffers. He was quality against the Kiwis in Brisbane last year. We've got other spin options closing in but Lyon is the man til they really prove otherwise. No more last man standing stuff. Lyon has event this job, if another guy wants it they must earn it even better.

Posted by Meety on (October 17, 2012, 23:52 GMT)

That's a good article, on one hand encouraging, on the other a bit worrying! Who were the people calling him to give advice? I would imagine most "good" advice would come in practical terms (i.e in the nets), as opposed to verbally over the phone, other than stuff that falls under the category of encouragment. The article doesn't exactly say much for the Sth Ozzy fielding!!!!!!

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Daniel BrettigClose
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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