Lyon ready for hard toil on 'belter'
It is not unusual for spinners to be savaged by Kevin Pietersen, but typically they're bowling at the time. That wasn't the case during the last Ashes Test in Adelaide in December 2010, when Nathan Lyon was part of the groundstaff that Pietersen slammed as "pathetic". His ire was raised when the practice wickets were not covered when rain fell in the lead-up to the Test; his preparation didn't seem to suffer, for he went on to score 227 in England's innings victory.
As part of curator Damian Hough's staff, Lyon had a front-row seat to that Test, which also featured 148 from Alastair Cook. If Lyon was dreaming of anything regarding his own career it was simply the chance to play state cricket, which would happen later that summer. Now, Lyon will enter the next Adelaide Ashes Test as Australia's frontline spin bowler and a man with 89 Test wickets.
"I was sitting on the roller watching the whole time and preparing to put the covers on the last day when England won," Lyon said of the 2010-11 Test. "I was cutting the ground every morning so it was a different view and I can't wait to be out there enjoying an Ashes Test match ... [Pietersen] had a fair crack at us."
Collectively Australia's spinners - Xavier Doherty and the part-timer Marcus North - took 1 for 220 in that match, while Graeme Swann finished with 7 for 161 as Australia's batsmen failed to take advantage of good batting conditions. While England might consider bringing Monty Panesar in to join Swann this time around, Lyon is the only specialist slow bowler in Australia's squad, which should mean a mountain of work for him.
The redevelopment of Adelaide Oval means the traditional pitch has been replaced by a drop-in surface and the indications so far this Sheffield Shield season have been that fast bowlers will find it incredibly difficult to earn their rewards. At the halfway point of the Shield season, fast bowlers have collectively taken only 23 wickets at 57.08 at Adelaide Oval; last summer they piled up 127 wickets at 22.92.
Spinners, by comparison, have picked up 28 wickets at 41.39 this season, compared to a tally of 37 at 37.54 throughout the whole of last summer. In short, batting has become easier and all bowlers are finding the ground difficult, but spinners less so than the fast men. The main query will be whether the pitch will begin to break up and offer more turn towards the end of the match, which hasn't really happened in the four-day Shield matches.
"I've had a chat to Damo, my old boss, and it looks an absolute belter of a pitch, so credit to Damian," Lyon said. "It looks pretty similar to what we're used to here in Adelaide. It might be a tad slower, but it looks pretty good. It's going to be a great challenge for both teams.
"It's going to be a good challenge for me. Test pitches are totally different to Shield pitches. Fingers crossed there'll be some foot marks there and over five days it may break up, who knows. It looks like I'm going to be able to bowl a few overs here and I'm looking forward to that challenge bowling to their batsmen. If I can hold up one end and rotate our quicks it's going to hopefully keep their legs as fresh as possible and they can bowl a few fast bumpers again."
Australia will consider whether to include James Faulkner as an extra bowling option, given the workload that might otherwise be foisted upon Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson, but whatever the case, Lyon will have a heavy burden. Last summer, he suffered some criticism for not bowling Australia to victory on the final day against South Africa in Adelaide, but he took 3 for 49 from 50 overs in the second innings - hardly a catastrophic performance.
"You can thank Shane Warne for that, that's all I have to say about that," Lyon said when asked about the expectations on spinners in the fourth innings. "Shane Warne produced that for the spinners and that's part of the game. But saying that, there's 11 guys out there and usually about four or five bowlers. If we bowl together we'll win.
"Unfortunately last year James Pattinson went down with an injury. I'm sure if we had him up and going we would have won that Test. But injuries do happen and we can't control that. There's a lot of expectations but if we bowl well as a unit there's no reason why we can't beat anyone."
Warne has been available on occasions to provide advice to Lyon, but it is a far less celebrated spinner who has worked the most with Lyon in recent times, including on trying to make his action more side-on. John Davison, the spin coach and former offspinner with Victoria, South Australia and Canada, has been a key mentor for Lyon, including while travelling with the squad this summer.
"I've spoken to Warney a bit, especially over there in England," Lyon said. "It's fantastic for me, he's someone I can always call up and ask for a bit of advice or his opinion. But I've got John Davison here and he's one that I've really been working closely with."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here