Nathan Lyon's Test debut was a sensational one: against Sri Lanka in Galle, he struck with his first ball, and the batsman he dismissed was no less a name than Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka's best. The ball was a peach too; here is ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball commentary of that dismissal: 'Lyon to Sangakkara, OUT, he has struck first ball, would you believe it! He has got Kumar Sangakkara, of all men, what a first Test wicket to have, off your first ball, flight from round the wicket, grip, turn, bounce, Sanga hangs out the bat away from the body, with a bit of an open face, Clarke snaps it up low with a lunge to his left at slip, superb catch'.
Lyon continued to be a huge threat through the rest of that innings, and finished with outstanding figures of 5 for 34 from 15 overs. When the fourth innings of the match came along, with Sri Lanka required to chase an improbable 379 to win, it was expected that Lyon would play a huge role again. As it turned out, he only dismissed Suranga Lakmal, the Sri Lankan No. 10, in the innings, and returned figures of 1 for 73 from 19.5 overs. Luckily Ryan Harris was the top of his game, and his 5 for 62 ensured a relatively comfortable win for Australia.
For Lyon, that debut Test has unfortunately set a template for his performances in first and second innings, especially in Asia. In the second Test of that series, in Pallekele, he took 2 for 41 in Sri Lanka's first innings, and none for 52 in their second. In the 2013 series in India, there was more of the same in the Delhi Test, when he took 7 for 94 in India's first innings, and followed up with 2 for 71 in their second. Most recently, of course, that tendency was prominently on display again in Bengaluru, when his astonishing 8 for 50 was followed by none for 82.
Over his Test career so far, the difference between his first- and second-innings bowling stats in Asia is quite stark: he averages an impressive 30.84 in the first innings, but in the second he concedes nearly 50 per wicket. And the economy rate is marginally worse as well.
Outside Asia, though, there is little to choose between his first- and second-innings numbers: the average, economy rates and strike rates are nearly the same. In fact, in Australia, he does better in the second innings: in 32 Tests, he has 58 first-innings wickets at 37.86, and 60 second-innings wickets at 31.35. For a bowler who relies on overspin and bounce as much as he does on turn, the Australian pitches usually offer more bounce later in a Test than Asian ones, while also offering more turn as the game goes on. On the other hand, in Asia the bounce often diminishes late into a Test match, which seems to hamper Lyon's effectiveness even though the surface offers more turn. In Bengaluru he was clearly hindered by a blister to his bowling finger, but there is a pattern to his Asian numbers that goes beyond just this one Test.
Among the 32 non-Asian spinners who have bowled at least 100 second-innings overs in Asia, Lyon's average of 48.35 is fifth from the bottom. Two of the four with poorer averages are fingerspinners who played in the 1960s - Peter Parfitt and Don Wilson, both from England - while another, Carl Hooper, is primarily a batsman who bowled a bit. The only specialist spinner with a poorer average in the last 50 years is New Zealand's Jeetan Patel, who has averaged 53.20 in the opposition's second innings.
Along with Lyon's average, his economy rate of 3.59 is a problem too. It is the fifth-highest among these 32 spinners, and indicates that he is unable to exert much control even in terms of curbing the runs in the second innings.
On the other hand, Lyon's first-innings numbers in Asia compare quite favourably with the best overseas spinners: among all non-Asian spinners who have bowled 100-plus overs in the first innings in Asia since the start of 1980, only eight out of 42 have better averages than Lyon's 30.84.
Among those eight, two spinners - Daniel Vettori and Stuart MacGill - benefited from playing a series against a relatively weak Bangladesh team: Vettori took 18 of his 64 wickets against them, and MacGill 11 of his 22. Excluding those series, Vettori's first-innings average goes up to 36.10, and MacGill's to 35.27. Lyon moves up to a highly respectable seventh among 41 spinners.
A further break-up of Lyon's numbers against right- and left-hand batsmen clearly shows his ineffectiveness against right-handers in the second innings: a first-innings average of 33.70 balloons in the second innings to 54.76. Against left-handers, the average is much better in the first innings as well.
Against an Indian line-up stacked with right-handers, Lyon has an opportunity to work on those numbers, and how he fares against them will probably have a huge bearing on the final series verdict.