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December 2, 2011
Nathan Lyon and Daniel Vettori bowl with opposite hands, in contrasting fashions, and could not be further apart in the volume of their Test match experience. Yet their intelligence and application were at a similarly high level on day two of the first Test, as Lyon claimed the best figures by an Australian finger spinner at the Gabba in 80 years, and Vettori kept New Zealand in the match with a typically feisty 96.
After an eye-catching few overs on the first day, when he spun the ball on a moist pitch and could easily have had more than his one wicket, Lyon was rewarded on the second morning, and might have done better had Mitchell Starc not allowed himself to be diverted from a chance offered by Vettori. His loop, spin and bounce were beguiling, and maintained the strong progress he has made since a notable debut against Sri Lanka in Galle.
Just as importantly, Lyon responded to his coach Mickey Arthur's assertion that in his sixth Test, he needed to take a more senior role in the attack that has been reduced to four bowlers by the absence of Shane Watson's versatility. Cradling figures of 4-69, Lyon agreed he had been ready to step up.
"Yeah you could say that, I'm pretty confident with my own skill set and the way the ball's been coming out of my hand at training," Lyon said. "I've been working pretty hard, but saying that there's still a lot of work to do on my bowling as far as I'm concerned. I'm not going to settle there, I'm going to strive to get better and more consistent."
Much was made of Lyon's lack of Gabba experience, but he quietly pointed out that he has been playing at new venues all year, not only for Australia but South Australia, too.
"It's just like everywhere else I've played Test match cricket where I haven't played on any other venue," he said. "So it's just getting used to the conditions as quick as possible and trying to adapt. I certainly spoke to Ricky Ponting and Justin Langer especially."
"We had certain plans for certain batsmen, but Ricky was pretty big on me finishing my action, which is big for myself to get the revs on the ball and hopefully get the bounce out of the wicket, that's the big thing Ricky and myself spoke about. I was really happy with the way the ball came out of my hand, but there's still more work for me to do."
Vettori faced enough of Lyon during his innings to be impressed, describing the 23-year-old as aggressive in the best way.
"I think he looks like an aggressive spinner and I think that's what you want," Vettori said. "He's a guy who has the ability to take wickets and I think he bowled really well, he got some bounce and turn and he put pressure on us, particularly early yesterday. So that's what you want to see in a spinner and he did a great job.
"He flights it up and he bowls the occasional quicker one. It's what we all do. It is not always easy to face, but on this wicket I thought he bowled in the right areas and put some pressure on us."
Vettori made his own history when he took the new ball moments before lunch, the first spinner to do so at the Gabba since Bill O'Reilly during the Bodyline series in 1932-33. The gambit worked indirectly, as David Warner failed to adjust from spin to pace in time to avoid gloving a Tim Southee lifter.
"Warner on debut, the ball looked like it had spun a little bit, and as an opening batsman I guess you prepare to face fast bowling all the time, particularly at the Gabba," Vettori said. "So it was just trying to mix it up as much as we can, and we probably would have done it no matter what the situation, but it worked out well, one over before lunch and one after lunch."
Vettori's own batting has developed enormously over his long career, to the point that he can now be counted among the most dangerous No. 7 batsmen in the world, if hardly one of the most orthodox. He said the genesis of his improvement had been the fact he did not want to be cringing when reminded of his record.
"I was embarrassed with my own statistics," he said. "I thought I was a better player than that. I was probably a bit loose and probably a bit nervous when I went out to bat, and I tried to turn those things around, tighten up my technique and be a lot more positive when I walk out to the middle.
"It has allowed my game to flourish, be aggressive and hopefully put teams onto the back foot, because you see all the good players who've come in seven, eight or nine, they're always aggressive and take the game away from you. I tried to model myself a bit on that."
The only disappointment of Vettori's innings was the manner of its conclusion, a scampered single attempt allowing Michael Hussey to throw down the stumps. Vettori said he was more disappointed to have thrown away comfortable batting conditions than his seventh Test hundred.
"It was probably more about how batting was getting easier and easier," he said. "So to be dismissed in that manner was pretty disappointing because I thought Dean [Brownlie] and I could've batted for a long time."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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Shorter tours don't allow you time to get into form, and domestic cricket isn't demanding enough