The Ashes 2013-14

Lyon on cusp of 100 Test wickets

Brydon Coverdale in Melbourne

December 23, 2013

Comments: 21 | Text size: A | A
Nathan Lyon, the Ashes offspinner left standing, says that a 5-0 whitewash is Australia's goal

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."


Nathan Lyon removed Ben Stokes and Graeme Swann, Australia v England, Test, Perth, 5th day, December 17, 2013
Nathan Lyon would become the first player in 30 years to reach the milestone of a 100 Test wickets as an offspinner © Getty Images
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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

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Posted by 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.-:)

Posted by 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.

Posted by   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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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!?

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.
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