India v Australia, 4th Test, Delhi, 2nd day March 23, 2013

Finally, reward for Lyon

After a dry period since the Australian summer, Nathan Lyon, with his five wickets on the second day in Delhi, seems to have justified his position as his team's leading spinner

Halfway through this tour, Nathan Lyon's place as Australia's first-choice spinner appeared to be in serious doubt. He had been dropped after leaking runs heavily in the first Test in Chennai and the coach Mickey Arthur said Lyon "hasn't gone that well this year" and needed to work on some technical issues. It was hardly what Australia wanted halfway through an India tour and with an Ashes battle looming.

Whatever Lyon has been working on, the results showed on the second day in Delhi. Shane Watson did not call on Lyon until the 20th over of India's innings, when M Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara had already made a flying start of 78 for 0. Immediately, Lyon troubled the batsmen. He deceived Pujara with an arm ball that clipped the off stump after beating the outside edge and by the end of the day he had 5 for 94, an outstanding result given his struggles earlier in the tour.

Two things stood out about Lyon's performance. One was how much of a threat he posed when coming around the wicket, a tactic that he all but ignored at the start of the series. The other was a change in length. Lyon had bowled too full earlier in the tour and that was a key factor in his inability to restrict the runs. Men like MS Dhoni, who blasted a double-century in Chennai, will always feast on full, slow balls wide of off stump.

That's precisely what Dhoni did early in his innings in Delhi when Lyon overpitched a couple of times: the ball was driven handsomely through cover for four. But when he brought his length back and bowled a touch quicker he negated the chances of the batsman coming down the pitch. They had to find other ways to handle him, often by playing back, and when combined with his around-the-wicket line it made Lyon dangerous.

Suddenly, every ball brought the threat of an lbw if Lyon could just pitch it in line and straighten it enough. Three of his wickets came via that method. First there was Virat Kohli, who played back and misjudged the line. Then there was Sachin Tendulkar, who had already survived a perilously close lbw shout when he tried to sweep Lyon. He fell when he played back and couldn't get his bat down in time. And from the last ball of the day, Lyon had his fellow offspinner R Ashwin the same way.

Who knows what might have happened if Lyon had tried a similar approach earlier in the series. His success has come too late for Australia to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy but for Lyon's own future this was an important performance. Before this match, Lyon's recent record was disappointing: in his eight Tests since the start of the Australian summer he had taken 25 wickets at 47.52 with a best of 3 for 41.

Xavier Doherty and Glenn Maxwell had both been used in this series without suggesting that they were the long-term answer for Australia. But back home, the left-armers Steve O'Keefe and Ashton Agar were accumulating wickets in the Sheffield Shield, while the legspinner Fawad Ahmed was also pushing his case for consideration whenever his citizenship comes through. Lyon's work in Delhi will remind the selectors why he has been their No.1 choice for more than 18 months.

Of course, Lyon might not have been so successful were it not for the pressure being built at the other end by Australia's fast men. They were quick, accurate and used the odd bouncer to keep India's batsmen wary, and it was comfortably Australia's best team bowling effort of the tour. It wasn't enough to give Watson's men a first-innings lead, but the outcome after two days in Delhi was as even between India and Australia as at any stage throughout the series.

The day's play also confirmed Lyon's place as Australia's best Test spin option - 72 victims so far in 22 Tests attest to his wicket-taking habit. He could yet add more on the third morning and will be a key man in India's fourth-innings chase. And you can bet Watson won't wait 20 overs to introduce him again.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sri on March 24, 2013, 6:45 GMT

    @RednWhiteArmy thanks for pointing out. I did not know that o'keefe is not australian(or australian born) :)

  • Andrew on March 24, 2013, 4:31 GMT

    Yep, well done, Lyon. When it was too late, the chips weren't down, the Indians have probably lost a bit of focus and the series is already over, you stand up and perform. And therein lies the problem with a lot of the current players - when it matters they don't deliver. When it's not as important suddenly they put up good performances.

  • Mark on March 24, 2013, 3:49 GMT

    Well done to Lyon. As others have mentioned, he's still relatively new to test cricket and has obviously learnt on the job while in his first tour of India. Remember that every wicket Warne got in India in his first two tours of India cost over 50 runs. So it's no walk in the park.

    No idea why Doherty was selected for the tour, he has never looked like a test bowler.

  • Rajaram on March 24, 2013, 3:14 GMT

    Every now and then, the Selectors do something stupid. Like dropping Nathan Lyon after the first Test.Like not selecting Nathan Hauritz for the Oval Test in 2009 after crushing the Poms at Headingley 4th Test, and thinking that pace is best to win the series.

  • richard on March 24, 2013, 2:10 GMT

    Good to see Lyon get some wickets. There was an article on cricinfo a week or two ago that was reporting on a discussion on how to bowl spin in India - faster and flatter (this was advice given to the aussie spinners by Bishen Bedi?). The issue Lyon had was he was trying to bowl in the same manner as he did in Oz. Good to seem him finally able to adapt. Hope he gets a 10-for in this game.

  • brenta on March 24, 2013, 0:37 GMT

    It took lyon this long to work out he needed to change things. Imagine other slow bowlers got given as much opportunities as him while failing.

  • James on March 24, 2013, 0:36 GMT

    @CptMeanster I suggest you inform yourself before making comments like Lyon is the only spinner in Australia. Try reading the article, or looking up a Shield game. Did you say Lyon is not in the class as Monty? :-). I suggest you check their stats, including strike rates. Lyon gets a lot more wickets per 100 balls than Monty. But hey. Maybe I'm wrong and the Kiwis are being obliterated by him as we speak!

  • Sean on March 23, 2013, 23:07 GMT

    Not too shabby from nathan lyon, just a pity he does well when the series is over and the pressure is off. I reckon australia needs khawaja, o'keefe & henriques. If you wanna know why, look at their profiles to see where they were born. United XI anyone?

  • Andrew on March 23, 2013, 21:10 GMT

    Lyon in 3 Tests has 11 wickets @ an ave of 44 & S/R of 60. Panesar's first visit to India was 3 Tests, 5 wickets @ ave 62 & S/R 141. Panesar was only marginally better 2nd time around. Swann's first tour was similar to Lyon's (8 wickets in 2 tests, ave 40 & S/R 75). @Behind_the_bowlers_arm on (March 23, 2013, 17:14 GMT) - well said. @jb633 on (March 23, 2013, 19:19 GMT)- I think the pitch has made for interesting viewing, but it is still a poor one. To get one ball run along the ground followed by one to rip off a length & take Hughes head off on Day 1 - is not good. I do not like variable bounce on the 1st day of a test.

  • Dummy4 on March 23, 2013, 20:24 GMT

    Well done Mr Lyon.

    Lyon had to learn on the job for this tour, and that he has done. Why the ACB refuse to understand that coaching and mentoring of players throughout their career is an important facet of the game is beyond me. The belief that our players can be world beaters without appropriate environmental conditioning is again seen as a myth

    Again all I can say is that the ACB have no idea when it comes to planning, talent spotting or talent development. Touring with Maxwell and Doherty in the team was a pathetic decision, and why they were selected above Lyon in the 2nd Test could only be because they wanted to persist with Wade. Maxwell's only wicket was due to a poor decision, yet missed one because Wade again showed his talent. Watson did well not to bowl him early as 20-runs in this game will be vital.

    Great job from the tail .... AGAIN!!! Taking Australia from 7-136 to 262 ensured that there will not be an innings defeat and grafts the possibly a win.