Lyon goes from cult hero to real hero

Two popular musicians are touring Australia this summer, one of them currently enjoying a cult following, the other a far greater devotion. Daryl Braithwaite is the first, having enjoyed something of a renaissance as crowds thrill to renditions of his Rickie Lee Jones cover, The Horses. Fun as that may be, it cannot compare to the more comprehensive mastery of the other, who happens to be a fit and firing Beatle. Sir Paul McCartney himself, Hofner bass and all, is in the country.

The gulf in reverence for Braithwaite and McCartney rather resembles that for Nathan Lyon from a year ago to now. Back then, Lyon was getting plenty of cheers, but with a level of ironic novelty that grew out of Matthew Wade's "nice Garry" chirp of encouragement from behind the stumps. Here and now, in front of another excellent Adelaide Oval crowd, the pleasure of watching Lyon bowl, and the level of adulation it generated, was deeply admiring for a body of work that has made him 2017's joint leading Test match wicket-taker.

He has, thanks in no small part to the confidence derived from two outstanding tours of India and Bangladesh, grown from a cult hero to a real one, using his skill and personality to bend another England innings to his will. While it should not be forgotten that Lyon has always done well against England, from the moment he was recalled to the Australian Test side for Old Trafford in 2013, he has never been a more central figure to the action than this series so far.

Lyon's big pronouncements pre-series suggested that he knew he would be, and the composition of Australia's bowling attack as a four-piece band rather than a quintet underlined his primacy in the home side's plans. The subsequently confident celebrations of his wickets, as though he's happy with them but also that he expects them, confirm the fact. Like McCartney accepting riotous applause from the masses for playing Day Tripper or I Saw Her Standing There, Lyon knows he's putting on a show that few around the world can match.

Inclement weather on the second evening, saving England from needing to bat for about another 20 overs under lights, served arguably to heighten Lyon's importance on the third afternoon, for it deprived Steven Smith of the best hour in which to use his fast men. While the dismissals of James Vince and a fretful Joe Root meant Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins were able to make early incisions in daylight, Smith still needed Lyon's wiles to work his way through the visitors' middle order.

First, though, Lyon worked on Alastair Cook, who to his evident disappointment is looking increasingly like ending his international career with one outstanding Australian tour in 2010-11 and three other poor ones. Though a noted player of spin at his best, Cook has never been able to get complete comfortable against Lyon, who had worked out by the end of that aforementioned first Ashes Test in Manchester that he needed only to avoid dropping short at Cook to consistently test his outside edge.

At The Oval in 2015 he found a wonderful, spitting off break to beat Cook's outside edge and clatter into the off stump, but this time he was not made to work as hard. A slightly wider delivery, dipping and bouncing but not turning unduly, was enough to draw a miscalculation from the former England captain, as Cook offered a tentatively open bat face to guide the off break to Smith at slip. Where once Cook's wicket was the cause for unbridled delight from a fielding team, now Lyon and the Australians seemed almost to expect it.

Less expected was the next act of showmanship, coming as it did soon after the tea interval. Lyon and Moeen Ali have so far fought a fascinating duel, the Australian loving any overs bowled at left-handers but the Englishman showing more competence in attacking spin than any of his team-mates. The slog sweep is a favoured method for Moeen, but on 25 he watched Lyon deliver a higher, slower delivery that drifted towards middle and leg and then held up off the surface.

Moeen, like Cook a little on the tentative side, offered a chip back towards mid-on, but slowly enough for Lyon to measure the ball's direction, take one set-up step to his left, then take flight with a dive that had him clasp the chance at full extension. It was a wondrous catch, summing up not only Lyon's skill as a bowler and athleticism as a fielder but also his unstinting commitment to the cause. As a piece of performance art for 43,088 spectators, it could scarcely have been more joyous than a McCartney solo, a Pete Townshend windmill or the National's Matt Berninger clambering into the crowd to sing Terrible Love.

From the very first innings of his Test career, Lyon has been exceptional off his own bowling, diving full-length to dismiss Chanaka Welegedara at Galle that day in 2011, a catch he reprised against Marlon Samuels at Hobart in 2015. But the Moeen catch, in the crucible of an Ashes series, will doubtless be remembered as long as any. Having led the way with this means of dismissal, Lyon was able to watch happily as Mitchell Starc snaffled a couple return chances of his own - a juggler from Jonny Bairstow then a skier from Chris Woakes.

What remained for Lyon was to clean up the tail after the dinner break, a task he completed in a couple of overs. How Ashton Agar would have loved to have Stuart Broad similarly given out after edging at Nottingham in 2013? How Nathan Hauritz must have yearned in 2009 at Cardiff for the same optimistic sweep shot that James Anderson offered a Lyon delivery always heading for leg stump? The circumstances in Adelaide were very different, but so too was the bowler.

For many years a support act, then last summer a novelty, Lyon has become very much the main attraction this summer. And even when Anderson, Woakes and Root were able to orchestrate some Arctic Monkeys-inspired mayhem - I bet you look good with the pink ball, indeed - it was Lyon who returned for a nightwatchman's encore under lights. That too offered some flourish, complete with a blow to the body and a spot of time-wasting to ensure the final over. Again like McCartney and unlike Braithwaite, Lyon clearly has many more than one tune with which to get the crowd going.