Australia in South Africa 2013-14

Lyon changes angle of attack

Daniel Brettig in Johannesburg

February 8, 2014

Comments: 16 | Text size: A | A

Nathan Lyon took two wickets in his first spell, England Lions v Australians, tour match, Northampton, 1st day
Nathan Lyon bowled almost exclusively from around the wicket during the recent Ashes series © Getty Images
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Nathan Lyon's journey towards maturity as a spin bowler took another important step at the Wanderers as he gained confidence in bowling from over the wicket, having used the line from around the stumps almost exclusively during his successful Ashes series in Australia.

While South Africa's likely quartet of left-handers will be of interest to Lyon and his mentor John Davison, it was the angle of attack to batsmen he will spin the ball into that the 26-year-old spent most of his time honing on day one of the squad's practice fixture.

There were decent results too. After coaxing David Warner to miscue an attempt to hit over the top with his very first ball, Lyon defeated both Michael Clarke and Shane Watson from his new angle, which Davison had set out as a more sustainable "Plan A" than the line around the stumps that he so often pursued against England.

"He hadn't bowled a lot over the wicket to right-handers in the Ashes," Davison said. "He was coming around the wicket a lot and got very comfortable doing that, so we've challenged him to be able to start over the wicket to the right-handers and try to get them bowled through the gate and bring first slip into play and bat pad.

"Then he's got the plan B to come around the wicket to them. We just want him to be adaptable and confident to do it and bowl different angles to different players, and therefore being able to bowl to different plans."

Davison's partnership with Lyon has been a significant advantage for Australia's No. 1 spinner, particularly since he convinced the team performance manager Pat Howard that the former Canada, Victoria and South Australia twirler deserved a place on the tour alongside him. Davison is scheduled to be in South Africa until the end of the first Test, having been present at four of the five Ashes venues in the home summer.

"I don't know if I'm a lucky charm, but I think we've developed a pretty good relationship and there's plenty of honesty between us," Davison said. "There's not a lot of negativity, we came up with a blueprint about a year and a half ago on the things to work on, and we keep reminding each other on what he's working on and sticking to those basic things that seem to work for him.

"I think Nath if he's bowling well is as good as any conventional finger spinner in the world. He's outbowled Swann in the last series definitely, so we're going pretty well in the spin stocks in Australia, we've got some good young ones coming through. Nath's best ball is as good as anyone's going around. He's pretty well placed to have 100 plus wickets at his age and I think things look pretty good for him."

Part of the reason Lyon was able to confound numerous Englishmen was the bounce he generated from a high action on hard Australian pitches. He is likely to be similarly aided in South Africa, something evident in his dismissal of Watson - caught at short leg off bat and pad.

"That was the great benefit he had in the Australian summer," Davison said. "Swann bowls more sidespin and Nathan comes over the top a bit more and the bounce got him the wickets in Australia. You'd imagine if they've got the hard, fast wickets here he'll bowl well on those wickets."

Lyon first caught Davison's eye when he was still playing in Canberra as part of the ACT Comets, but it was a stint in the Big Bash with South Australia in 2010-11 that first catapulted him into national team contention. There is something of a paradox about how he has since developed into a Test match only bowler, and Davison said the presence of another offspinner in Glenn Maxwell had been a contributor to this.

"I'm sure he's good enough to bowl with the white ball now," he said. "I think the balance of the team with Maxwell there makes it difficult for him - if you want a balanced team you want someone to turn the ball the other way I suppose. That's what's going against him at the moment. He bowled well in the BBL games he did play, so it's just one of those things where the balance of the team doesn't really suit at the moment."

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

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Posted by Meety on (February 11, 2014, 10:55 GMT)

@Shaggy076 on (February 9, 2014, 5:20 GMT) - I agree with the Shagster, Lyon's fielding has improved. It has from good, but a shade limited - to brilliant - IMO. That leg skip catch he took was I think the catch of the summer as he would of had little reaction time. Its not that his fielding was poor previously - I just think he has improved & should now be considered for slip fielding roles.

Posted by flickspin on (February 10, 2014, 13:25 GMT)

lyon gets good spin and bounce

and he has amazing control, both line and length

he is underestimated

i think its great his got plan a and plan b.

watching him this summer, i thought he could of bowl over the wicket, just to change things up,

but he didn't have too, he continually took wickets,

off spiners love bowling around the wicket to left hander,(i would bowl 95% of the time to left handers around the wicket), he could work on bowling over the wicket to left hander

another string he could add to his bow, is to work on a jonny gleeson ball.

he created his own ball called jeffery, which i didnt see this year.

i enjoy watching him bowl

Posted by popcorn on (February 10, 2014, 4:33 GMT)

It is amaxing how Talent Spotting anf Groomimg has got us Nathan Lyon as one if yhe top Spinners in the world.We are a spin force to reckon with, on par with the best in the world.Cheers.

Posted by Jagger on (February 9, 2014, 13:46 GMT)

When I read the headline I thought you were going to say Lyon has leaned how to bowl legspin. Severely denied.

Posted by Shaggy076 on (February 9, 2014, 5:20 GMT)

DungeBob; Being a bit of a Lyon fan I havent noticed much improvement in his fielding, ever since being in the Aussie side he has been outstanding with very view mistakes. I remember the classic catch on the boundary in the early stages of his career not sure who it was against but watched his fielding closely from then and he has always been brilliant just such a quite guy that doesnt get any publicity for such things.

Posted by dunger.bob on (February 9, 2014, 4:17 GMT)

@ Greatest_Game: Rigid and rapid is my favourite, but we'll take any of them. Whatever it is it's got to beat the hell out of the sand pits we usually get when we tour.

Even if we get whooped into next week I think you'll find that our players will enjoy the conditions. I'm not saying we'll roll you over, but they will appreciate a bit of pace and bounce even if it means wearing a few on the badge.

@ Chris_P: It doesn't surprise me at all that he's well regarded in the grade scene wherever he plays. I mean, he's a good bowler and I've noticed that his fielding has improved in leaps and bounds over the last 2 years. He's normally in close cause his arm isn't strong, but he anticipates well in close and is starting to catch those half chances. Good lad.

Posted by blink182alex on (February 9, 2014, 2:11 GMT)

It's not like he has never bowled over the wicket to right handers before. It was only that last test in India where he took 9 wickets when he started bowling round the wicket more.

But really, if it's not broke then don't change it. Round the wicket has worked for him in his last 9 tests so it's not an essential problem that needs fixing. He has played 5 tests before against SA and has performed well in every test.

Posted by AidanFX on (February 9, 2014, 1:10 GMT)

Awesome news, I was hoping he would make this adjustment; part of the flexibility and variation to take his game to the next level. One thing with Lyon is he has the right attitude but he still needs to broaden his game.

Posted by   on (February 9, 2014, 0:15 GMT)

People want Lyon to be a strike bowler like Warne, but he'll probably never be one. However, he already is a very effective off spinner in the classical sense - a guy you throw the ball to when the fast bowlers have finished their shift, or when the conditions suit him.

The ingredients were always there - he gets a lot of spin, flight and bounce, and every year he gets better. Our selectors did the right thing by giving him national team duty at an early age, and kept picking him until he came good.

Posted by spex750 on (February 8, 2014, 23:11 GMT)

I've always thought Lyon would be an even more effective bowler to right-handers once he figures out his lines from over the wicket. He's had some success in the past when he's bowled from right over the stumps and shaped it away from the batsman before turning it back in but unfortunately he hasn't done this consistently. Bowling from around the wicket has a similar effect but takes away some catching options. Hopefully this is on of the things they've sorted out.

Between that, and getting enough confidence to vary his pace a bit more, he could become a formidable long-term spin option. There are some good aggressive wicket-taking spinners coming through the ranks (Muirhead and Boyce come to mind) but it'd do more harm than good to blood them too young, especially when you already have a quality spinner in the side.

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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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