The Ashes 2013-14 December 23, 2013

Lyon on cusp of 100 Test wickets

21

Nathan Lyon is nearing a rare century. Australia's leading Test spinners have overwhelmingly been of the leg variety - Shane Warne, Richie Benaud, Clarrie Grimmett, Stuart MacGill and Bill O'Reilly top the wicket list. You can count on one hand the number of Australian offspinners who have taken 100 Test wickets, but Lyon is poised to join Hugh Trumble, Ashley Mallett, Bruce Yardley and Ian Johnson on that list, the first player in 30 years to reach the milestone.

Lyon will begin the Boxing Day Test on 95 wickets. Playing enough Tests to take that many is an achievement in the post-Warne era, given the way Australia's selectors rotated through the slow bowlers until settling on Lyon. Exciting he may not be, but Lyon has provided important variety for Michael Clarke and has been steady enough to maintain the pressure built up by the fast bowlers during this Ashes series.

"If I get there it'll be a great achievement, but we're worried about getting a 4-0 result here and then, when I finish my career, I'll worry about my results," Lyon said. "I just want to keep bowling well and keep contributing to Australian cricket and hopefully if I play my role and everyone plays their role in the team we'll get our result.

"I'm definitely confident about my own skill to get the job done, there's no doubt about that. There's a great feeling in the team at the moment. Everyone's playing together and everyone wants each other to do well. It's a great feeling and I'm very proud to be a part of it."

Lyon has outbowled his England counterpart Graeme Swann in this series and was surprised to learn that Swann had retired in the lead-up to the Melbourne Test, ending the career of a man Lyon had respected greatly. While the majority of successful offspinners in recent years have been from the subcontinent, often boasting doosras and other unusual varieties, Lyon and Swann are of the more traditional breed.

"He's someone I certainly looked up to and learnt my craft off just watching on the TV," Lyon said. "He's been a pleasure to play against and I've had a couple of chats with him. It's a credit to him and his career and I wish him all the best.

"Just his consistency [has] been fantastic, and the way he puts the ball in different spots in different ways. I get a lot out of just watching it. Credit to Graeme Swann, he's been fantastic and he's going to be missed for cricket in general, but it's a big positive for Australia, there's no doubt about it. He's been the menace for Australia over the last few years."

Swann's consistency is a trait Lyon would like to emulate, and he knows that while he bowled well in Brisbane and Perth this series, he was disappointed with his output in Adelaide. However, at only 26, and with less than three years as a first-class cricketer to call upon, Lyon is still learning his craft. For now, he is happy to hold up an end and let the likes of Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris take the majority of the attention.

"Not one of us is concerned who takes wickets so long as one of us in the bowling group is taking wickets and we're able to take 20 wickets in a Test match," he said. "That's our goal. If Mitchell Johnson keeps taking seven-fors and five-fors, I'm more than happy about that. It's going to be someone's day. We just have to keep working together as a team unit and keep enjoying it."

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • electric_loco_WAP4 on December 25, 2013, 11:14 GMT

    Has played part in recent tests for Aus be get in few tight overs,picking a few W or breakthrough.If he carries in same vein will buy self a few more caps as Aus test spinner.Be tough to get his 5 @ MCG as worlds best pace attack wont leave him any.-:)

  • Dr.Scott on December 25, 2013, 9:28 GMT

    To me Lyon is clearly the best spinner Australia has available. He is doing a very good job of contributing to the Australia attack. He is not taking huge amounts of wickets but he is getting specialist batsmen out at times Australia needs a wicket.

    As far as the back up goes, Steve O'Keefe has impressive figures this Sheffield Shield season, leading wicket taker at a extremely good average. His overall record is very good as well. If there is any other spinner in Australia who could step up to test level and do a good job it is O'Keefe.

  • on December 25, 2013, 7:43 GMT

    Graeme Swann himself commented that Lyon is a very good offspinner. High praise indeed. Lyon is gaining excellent control and gets occasional bounce that causes problems. He should be a mainstay of the Australian side for the next 6 or 7 years at least.

  • TeamRocker on December 24, 2013, 14:44 GMT

    Contrary to several comments here, I honestly feel that if Australia stick with Lyon for the next four to five years, he'll have the potential to be a really threatening bowler. He just needs to develop the ability to turn as well as bounce the ball (a weakness which was exposed in Adelaide). You don't NEED a leg-spinner to become a top team, a good spinner of any variety will do the job. Lyon isn't all that old, and once he matures as a player and hits his peak (probably at around 30), Australia will wonder how they could ever have dropped and rotated him the way they did.

  • Clavers on December 24, 2013, 8:51 GMT

    @Blakey: Without taking anything away from Lyon, comparing Watson to him based on wickets per test is comparing an apple with an orange. The reason Lyon comes out ahead on wickets per test is he bowls nearly twice as many overs -- 19.2 per innings in which he has bowled versus 10.4 for Watson.

    It is obvious why; ask any player (let alone one with Watson's injury history) to bat in the top six *and* bowl twenty overs a day of fast-medium and you are begging the man to get injured.

    A fairer comparison is Watson to Kallis (292 test wickets), the second best batting all-rounder in history after Sobers. The strike rates of Watson and Kallis are identical at 69.0 balls per wicket. Watson has the superior average at 31.88 versus 32.53 due to a better economy rate (2.77 vs 2.82). Kallis, less injury-prone than Watto, manages 12.4 overs/innings.

    For a 4th seamer who never gets the new ball, Watto plays his role very well.

    Lyon's strike rate: 65.5 balls; econ 3.02 and ave 33.04.

  • Slysta on December 24, 2013, 8:20 GMT

    @BradmanBestEver: Completely disagree. South Africa look like a world force to me, and they don't have a spinner of Lyon's quality. if they did have him, they'd pick him every time (and it took us Aussies too long to realise that we should do the same). Way I see it, Lyon has mastered the 'hard' stuff, like posing a threat on surfaces like the WACA, but has work to do on the 'easy' stuff, like exploiting helpful conditions. The latter will come: he's only 26, and he is going to get plenty more exposure to worn, turning pitches. Be patient. Have faith. He is too good not to learn. Australia's bigger problem is the support cast: who is the second spinner in the XI for Tests in the subcontinent? Steve Smith is a 5-overs-per-day man; Doherty is not up to it, and I don't think Maxwell will make it as a proper off-spinner in first-class cricket, let alone Tests. Agar I suppose, but he remains seriously raw... which brings us back to where we started: don't we love Nathan Lyon!?

  • Biggus on December 24, 2013, 2:53 GMT

    @Beertjie:- Whilst I agree that it would be ideal for us to have a good leggie the bottom line is that in between good ones we make do with what we have. Consider the spinners who served Australia between Richie Benaud and Shane Warne:- Johhny Gleeson, Terry Jenner, Kerry O'Keefe, Ashley Mallett, Ray Bright, Bruce Yardley, Jim Higgs, Greg Matthews, Trevor Hohns, Tim May. Not an exhaustive list but a fair representation. Ashley Mallett would be the pick of them overall and arguably Jim Higgs the best leggie. So in the absence of a REALLY GOOD leggie like Benaud or Warne you just pick the best you have, and I think Lyon is good enough with more potential to come that it's going to take a Benaud or Warne to supplant him, not just a Jenner, O'Keefe or Higgs. He's our Ashley Mallett of the moment, and I think he's doing a pretty good job of it.

  • landl47 on December 24, 2013, 1:08 GMT

    I remember saying a couple of years ago that I thought Lyon had done pretty well considering the circumstances (his age and lack of experience) when he came into the side. At that time he wasn't as good as Swann, but to his credit he has worked really hard at his game, modified his action (I think he has a great action for an offspinner now) and made himself into a top-class bowler. He has outbowled Swann in this series and not by luck or accident, he has bowled really well. Most of the wickets he has taken have been key wickets and taken at key times.

    There's absolutely no reason why he would not be Australia's lead spinner for many years. Those talking about needing a legspinner seem to think that there's another Shane Warne round the corner. If Aus finds one, great, but the last legspinner who was better than Lyon before Warne was Benaud.

    As an England fan, I'd love to have Lyon in the England side.

  • Blakey on December 24, 2013, 0:29 GMT

    A couple of notes about Lyon. 20 more wickets than May after same number of tests. Half as many tests as Watson and nearly twice as many wickets (Watto's not the bowler he's made out to be!). Similar rate of wickets to Mallett and Yardley = good bowler.

  • drfarnsworth on December 24, 2013, 0:04 GMT

    Big_Maxy_Walker - Ha!! So true!! And maybe would have gotten more the last two series, as his confidence and bowling style would be different. He seems to be too scared to bowl rippers cos of Wade's previous drops/missed stumpings.

  • electric_loco_WAP4 on December 25, 2013, 11:14 GMT

    Has played part in recent tests for Aus be get in few tight overs,picking a few W or breakthrough.If he carries in same vein will buy self a few more caps as Aus test spinner.Be tough to get his 5 @ MCG as worlds best pace attack wont leave him any.-:)

  • Dr.Scott on December 25, 2013, 9:28 GMT

    To me Lyon is clearly the best spinner Australia has available. He is doing a very good job of contributing to the Australia attack. He is not taking huge amounts of wickets but he is getting specialist batsmen out at times Australia needs a wicket.

    As far as the back up goes, Steve O'Keefe has impressive figures this Sheffield Shield season, leading wicket taker at a extremely good average. His overall record is very good as well. If there is any other spinner in Australia who could step up to test level and do a good job it is O'Keefe.

  • on December 25, 2013, 7:43 GMT

    Graeme Swann himself commented that Lyon is a very good offspinner. High praise indeed. Lyon is gaining excellent control and gets occasional bounce that causes problems. He should be a mainstay of the Australian side for the next 6 or 7 years at least.

  • TeamRocker on December 24, 2013, 14:44 GMT

    Contrary to several comments here, I honestly feel that if Australia stick with Lyon for the next four to five years, he'll have the potential to be a really threatening bowler. He just needs to develop the ability to turn as well as bounce the ball (a weakness which was exposed in Adelaide). You don't NEED a leg-spinner to become a top team, a good spinner of any variety will do the job. Lyon isn't all that old, and once he matures as a player and hits his peak (probably at around 30), Australia will wonder how they could ever have dropped and rotated him the way they did.

  • Clavers on December 24, 2013, 8:51 GMT

    @Blakey: Without taking anything away from Lyon, comparing Watson to him based on wickets per test is comparing an apple with an orange. The reason Lyon comes out ahead on wickets per test is he bowls nearly twice as many overs -- 19.2 per innings in which he has bowled versus 10.4 for Watson.

    It is obvious why; ask any player (let alone one with Watson's injury history) to bat in the top six *and* bowl twenty overs a day of fast-medium and you are begging the man to get injured.

    A fairer comparison is Watson to Kallis (292 test wickets), the second best batting all-rounder in history after Sobers. The strike rates of Watson and Kallis are identical at 69.0 balls per wicket. Watson has the superior average at 31.88 versus 32.53 due to a better economy rate (2.77 vs 2.82). Kallis, less injury-prone than Watto, manages 12.4 overs/innings.

    For a 4th seamer who never gets the new ball, Watto plays his role very well.

    Lyon's strike rate: 65.5 balls; econ 3.02 and ave 33.04.

  • Slysta on December 24, 2013, 8:20 GMT

    @BradmanBestEver: Completely disagree. South Africa look like a world force to me, and they don't have a spinner of Lyon's quality. if they did have him, they'd pick him every time (and it took us Aussies too long to realise that we should do the same). Way I see it, Lyon has mastered the 'hard' stuff, like posing a threat on surfaces like the WACA, but has work to do on the 'easy' stuff, like exploiting helpful conditions. The latter will come: he's only 26, and he is going to get plenty more exposure to worn, turning pitches. Be patient. Have faith. He is too good not to learn. Australia's bigger problem is the support cast: who is the second spinner in the XI for Tests in the subcontinent? Steve Smith is a 5-overs-per-day man; Doherty is not up to it, and I don't think Maxwell will make it as a proper off-spinner in first-class cricket, let alone Tests. Agar I suppose, but he remains seriously raw... which brings us back to where we started: don't we love Nathan Lyon!?

  • Biggus on December 24, 2013, 2:53 GMT

    @Beertjie:- Whilst I agree that it would be ideal for us to have a good leggie the bottom line is that in between good ones we make do with what we have. Consider the spinners who served Australia between Richie Benaud and Shane Warne:- Johhny Gleeson, Terry Jenner, Kerry O'Keefe, Ashley Mallett, Ray Bright, Bruce Yardley, Jim Higgs, Greg Matthews, Trevor Hohns, Tim May. Not an exhaustive list but a fair representation. Ashley Mallett would be the pick of them overall and arguably Jim Higgs the best leggie. So in the absence of a REALLY GOOD leggie like Benaud or Warne you just pick the best you have, and I think Lyon is good enough with more potential to come that it's going to take a Benaud or Warne to supplant him, not just a Jenner, O'Keefe or Higgs. He's our Ashley Mallett of the moment, and I think he's doing a pretty good job of it.

  • landl47 on December 24, 2013, 1:08 GMT

    I remember saying a couple of years ago that I thought Lyon had done pretty well considering the circumstances (his age and lack of experience) when he came into the side. At that time he wasn't as good as Swann, but to his credit he has worked really hard at his game, modified his action (I think he has a great action for an offspinner now) and made himself into a top-class bowler. He has outbowled Swann in this series and not by luck or accident, he has bowled really well. Most of the wickets he has taken have been key wickets and taken at key times.

    There's absolutely no reason why he would not be Australia's lead spinner for many years. Those talking about needing a legspinner seem to think that there's another Shane Warne round the corner. If Aus finds one, great, but the last legspinner who was better than Lyon before Warne was Benaud.

    As an England fan, I'd love to have Lyon in the England side.

  • Blakey on December 24, 2013, 0:29 GMT

    A couple of notes about Lyon. 20 more wickets than May after same number of tests. Half as many tests as Watson and nearly twice as many wickets (Watto's not the bowler he's made out to be!). Similar rate of wickets to Mallett and Yardley = good bowler.

  • drfarnsworth on December 24, 2013, 0:04 GMT

    Big_Maxy_Walker - Ha!! So true!! And maybe would have gotten more the last two series, as his confidence and bowling style would be different. He seems to be too scared to bowl rippers cos of Wade's previous drops/missed stumpings.

  • on December 23, 2013, 23:37 GMT

    @Dave Bollen, I'm with you mate. I am really impressed by his improvement in his batting and fielding as much as anything, he holds all his catches and digs in well with the bat every time he walks out. Still a lot of work to go on his bowling but that's a good thing. If he can average somewhere around 30 playing half his cricket in Oz then he is a pretty good offie indeed!

  • on December 23, 2013, 22:17 GMT

    Lyon is only 26 years old. If Aust persevere with him, how good will he be when he matures as a spinner? Spinners don't generally mature until they are in their 30's. If Aust stick with him til he turns 30 he will have played approx 70 tests and taken approx 240 wickets. And this would all be before he turns 30. Stick with him Australia and watch the records tumble as he gets older. No Aust off spinner will ever take as many wickets as he will finish up with.

  • Big_Maxy_Walker on December 23, 2013, 19:30 GMT

    He would have about 110 test wickets if someone other than Mathew Wade had been keeping for a lot of his tests

  • Beertjie on December 23, 2013, 16:34 GMT

    I'm never going to bag Lyon who has worked so hard at his craft that he'll be around and about the team for years to come. However, I have to agree that we will need a good leggie in the future if we are to challenge for #1. My hope is Zampa, but I hope that he doesn't get picked until he's ready (next home Ashes?). In the meantime guys like Agar and Maxwell can work at becoming batting all-rounders to help the team in spin-helpful conditions. For the SA tour I'd take O'Keefe as Lyon's understudy. Fawad Ahmed has been a disappointment and Jon Holland is not going too well after his injury last year.

  • on December 23, 2013, 15:07 GMT

    Seriously, the people who bag this man out need to get their heads read. He came from nowhere, he has done a decent job, and he tries his bloody heart out every game. If someone's got another warney hangin off a tree in their backyard, then cut him off and put him in a taxi to the mcg and freight the tree that bore the fruit to the inverarity residence as a Christmas gift to be held for the future. The man can take wickets, he has had pietersen, cook and stokes in this series, never disgraced himself, and no less a judge than Mr cricket, m. Hussey placed upon him the honour of singing the team song. He obviously loves what he does, he's obviously a team man, and he obviously, given the batsman who are legends or in form, that he got out in the last game, capable of taking a bloody wicket as required. Godspeed Nathan Lyon, merry Christmas and here's to a solid brace in the first innings at Melbourne followed by a pietersen, bell, stokes hatrick in the second for your hundredth.

  • BradmanBestEver on December 23, 2013, 13:30 GMT

    He is in the "serviceable" test cricket category. We need a better quality spinner if we are to be a world force.

  • jonesy2 on December 23, 2013, 12:42 GMT

    yew! couldn't be happier for nate lyon whata champion. such a talented spinner and is far from his peak. what an amazing story we are very lucky to have him

  • dunger.bob on December 23, 2013, 11:17 GMT

    Good on ya Gazza. Being a traditional off break bowler in Australia is not the easiest gig. Most offies would have more luck selling pork sausages at a vegetarians rally than bowling on our pitches.

    At 26 he mightn't peak for another 5 or 6 years so as long as his form holds he could be looking at a 300 + wicket career. Not bad for a groundsman I'd say.

  • on December 23, 2013, 11:09 GMT

    I`d love to see Lyon get his 100 this series, preferably in Melbourne of course with a first innings 5-for. He works hard on his batting and fielding, and doesn`t get nearly enough credit for his skills and persistence as a bowler. I nearly jumped out of my chair when I heard the talk of him not being selected for the 1st test of this series. He strikes me as exactly the sort of player teams need, in whatever level of cricket you play. He looks like a real team player, that everyone loves playing with, and a bloke who obviously enjoys the success of his teammates, and has a healthy respect for his opponents.

    On second thoughts, bugger the 5-fer, 10 would be great.

  • RVC-38 on December 23, 2013, 11:03 GMT

    you could say he is one cricketer who is a lion at home, and a lion away:)

  • on December 23, 2013, 11:01 GMT

    Lyon's is a wonderful story. Learned the art of off-spin. Got selected , keeps improving.

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  • on December 23, 2013, 11:01 GMT

    Lyon's is a wonderful story. Learned the art of off-spin. Got selected , keeps improving.

  • RVC-38 on December 23, 2013, 11:03 GMT

    you could say he is one cricketer who is a lion at home, and a lion away:)

  • on December 23, 2013, 11:09 GMT

    I`d love to see Lyon get his 100 this series, preferably in Melbourne of course with a first innings 5-for. He works hard on his batting and fielding, and doesn`t get nearly enough credit for his skills and persistence as a bowler. I nearly jumped out of my chair when I heard the talk of him not being selected for the 1st test of this series. He strikes me as exactly the sort of player teams need, in whatever level of cricket you play. He looks like a real team player, that everyone loves playing with, and a bloke who obviously enjoys the success of his teammates, and has a healthy respect for his opponents.

    On second thoughts, bugger the 5-fer, 10 would be great.

  • dunger.bob on December 23, 2013, 11:17 GMT

    Good on ya Gazza. Being a traditional off break bowler in Australia is not the easiest gig. Most offies would have more luck selling pork sausages at a vegetarians rally than bowling on our pitches.

    At 26 he mightn't peak for another 5 or 6 years so as long as his form holds he could be looking at a 300 + wicket career. Not bad for a groundsman I'd say.

  • jonesy2 on December 23, 2013, 12:42 GMT

    yew! couldn't be happier for nate lyon whata champion. such a talented spinner and is far from his peak. what an amazing story we are very lucky to have him

  • BradmanBestEver on December 23, 2013, 13:30 GMT

    He is in the "serviceable" test cricket category. We need a better quality spinner if we are to be a world force.

  • on December 23, 2013, 15:07 GMT

    Seriously, the people who bag this man out need to get their heads read. He came from nowhere, he has done a decent job, and he tries his bloody heart out every game. If someone's got another warney hangin off a tree in their backyard, then cut him off and put him in a taxi to the mcg and freight the tree that bore the fruit to the inverarity residence as a Christmas gift to be held for the future. The man can take wickets, he has had pietersen, cook and stokes in this series, never disgraced himself, and no less a judge than Mr cricket, m. Hussey placed upon him the honour of singing the team song. He obviously loves what he does, he's obviously a team man, and he obviously, given the batsman who are legends or in form, that he got out in the last game, capable of taking a bloody wicket as required. Godspeed Nathan Lyon, merry Christmas and here's to a solid brace in the first innings at Melbourne followed by a pietersen, bell, stokes hatrick in the second for your hundredth.

  • Beertjie on December 23, 2013, 16:34 GMT

    I'm never going to bag Lyon who has worked so hard at his craft that he'll be around and about the team for years to come. However, I have to agree that we will need a good leggie in the future if we are to challenge for #1. My hope is Zampa, but I hope that he doesn't get picked until he's ready (next home Ashes?). In the meantime guys like Agar and Maxwell can work at becoming batting all-rounders to help the team in spin-helpful conditions. For the SA tour I'd take O'Keefe as Lyon's understudy. Fawad Ahmed has been a disappointment and Jon Holland is not going too well after his injury last year.

  • Big_Maxy_Walker on December 23, 2013, 19:30 GMT

    He would have about 110 test wickets if someone other than Mathew Wade had been keeping for a lot of his tests

  • on December 23, 2013, 22:17 GMT

    Lyon is only 26 years old. If Aust persevere with him, how good will he be when he matures as a spinner? Spinners don't generally mature until they are in their 30's. If Aust stick with him til he turns 30 he will have played approx 70 tests and taken approx 240 wickets. And this would all be before he turns 30. Stick with him Australia and watch the records tumble as he gets older. No Aust off spinner will ever take as many wickets as he will finish up with.