Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 3rd day December 28, 2013

Lyon feels the love at last

He has gone under the radar for much of his career but Nathan Lyon is now Australia's joint-leading Test wicket-taker in 2013 and a fixture in the team
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Dropped for Doherty, moved on for Maxwell, axed for Agar - Nathan Lyon has been Australia's most underappreciated cricketer this year. What might have been had the selectors stuck firm with him? He could have been second or third on the world Test wickets list in 2013; instead he joins Peter Siddle as Australia's leading wicket-taker for the year. Siddle's 42 victims took 14 Tests to accumulate, Lyon claimed his in only 11.

It was fitting that Lyon finally gained recognition in Australia's last Test match of the year. When he flighted and turned a ball that caught Stuart Broad's edge to slip, Lyon was mobbed by his team-mates, his thinning hair tousled so vigorously that what remains of it was lucky to survive. The MCG's monstrously large new scoreboard flashed the message that Lyon had just taken his 100th Test wicket. It did not highlight how great an achievement that was.

No Australia offspinner has reached that milestone in the past 30 years. Only Hugh Trumble, George Giffen, Ashley Mallett, Bruce Yardley and Ian Johnson had ever done it. The spin cycle that began when Shane Warne retired seven years ago looked like it would run ad infinitum, slow bowlers used and abused, discarded after one or two Tests, some sent into retirement, others back to Sheffield Shield cricket.

Australia have tried 13 specialist spinners since Warne. Lyon has taken 101 wickets at 32.23 in 29 Tests; the other 12 collectively managed 119 victims at 48.75 from 46 appearances. But for all of his Test success, Lyon has been an under-the-radar type. He has never been Man of the Match in a Test. He had never, until his 5 for 50 here at the MCG, taken five wickets in a Test match in Australia. He says little, is as economical with his words as with his bowling.

But there was love for Lyon on the third day in Melbourne. Much love, and not just from his team-mates. As he ran back to field at fine leg during the afternoon, a beach ball lobbed on to the ground from the Olympic Stand. The security guard on duty collected it, sat on it, looked ready to burst it. Lyon signalled him to throw it back into the crowd. In the end, Lyon ran over, grabbed the ball from the guard and tossed it back to the raucous fans himself, winning a few thousand new friends.

The Nathan Lyon of two years ago, perhaps even one year ago, would not have done that. When first picked for the Test side, Lyon was painfully shy in public. He is slowly coming out of his shell. When Australia were one wicket from victory at the WACA, Lyon was one of three or four players urging the crowd to get involved, signalling for them to cheer their team home. Hours later, he led an emotional rendition of "Under the Southern Cross".

Lyon was named by Michael Hussey as the song's new custodian in January, but so miserable was Australia's year that he did not have a chance to lead the chorus until November. He has now done so three times in three Tests, and his bowling on the third afternoon in Melbourne gave Australia a strong chance of making it four from four. His work cannot be underestimated. A 300-plus target would have been a challenge; the 231 they were set is very gettable.

His drop did for Ian Bell, who didn't get to the pitch of the ball and lofted a drive to mid-off. His dip also accounted for Ben Stokes, who also lifted a catch to mid-off. He got rid of Tim Bresnan and Broad, and most importantly Kevin Pietersen, who prides himself on going after the spinners. Lyon's list of batsmen he has dismissed most in Test cricket now has Pietersen and Sachin Tendulkar at the top. Not a bad pair to have claimed four times each.

It is hard to believe that only a year ago Lyon was struggling for wickets, though his figures in the last Australian summer were distorted by an unfair share of dropped catches and missed stumpings. In February he was attacked by MS Dhoni in Chennai and dumped from the next Test, replaced by Xavier Doherty and Glenn Maxwell. They failed, Lyon returned and took nine in the Delhi Test.

That made him the incumbent spinner when the Ashes came around, but Australia's desire to surprise England led to Ashton Agar making his debut at Trent Bridge. Two Tests later, the selectors realised their error and returned to Lyon. He duly took seven in Chester-le-Street, a performance that might have led to victory were it not for a collective panic attack from Australia's batsmen.

This summer Lyon has been in the side to stay. The spin coach John Davison has travelled with the squad, tutoring Lyon one-on-one in the nets in the lead-up to matches. Lyon has taken 16 wickets for the series, third behind Mitchell Johnson and Broad for this Ashes campaign. He outbowled his England counterpart Graeme Swann, a man Lyon had looked up to as a developing offspinner without doosras and other tricks.

Swann retired with 255 wickets before this Test. Lyon emerged from it with 101 and a long future ahead of him. He doesn't shatter stumps and bruise batsmen like Johnson and co. He rarely makes the headlines. He's happy to be under the radar, just not to be underappreciated.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Showbags88 on December 29, 2013, 1:54 GMT

    Lyon should develop quite nicely over the next 4-5 years. He has only really been learning his trade for the last couple of years. When Ajmal and Herath retire in the next few years he could possibly (amazingly) be called the best spinner in the world.

  • Chris_P on December 28, 2013, 21:47 GMT

    This guy is so humble & such a team man. Without Wade, he would have made the 100 wickets a lot quicker, last summer down here really did undo him with so many missed chances.

  • ygkd on December 28, 2013, 20:36 GMT

    Australia has gone for callow youth far, far too often, but Lyon was clearly an exception. Seemingly plucked from nowhere, he had something old-fashioned about him, without the cloud of potential injuries that bedevil the pace-bowling fraternity at the same age. For a while, though, it looked like Lyon would also go the way of other post-Warne Oz spinners, unloved and unsupported, or fail for a maddening lack of support behind the stumps. Lyon's journey shows how hard it is to make it as a Test cricketer and how much can turn on things outside a player's control. Call that luck if you will. Lyon has deserved his. I'm no young bloke and I haven't seen a better Australian offie.

  • Krade on December 28, 2013, 19:22 GMT

    "his thinning hair tousled so vigorously that what remains of it was lucky to survive"

    rarely have I laughed out loud at a statement on cricinfo. this was one of those rare occurences

  • on December 28, 2013, 14:56 GMT

    He doesn't get the credit he deserves, in my opinion he is a fantastic spinner that could get into any team (outside subcontinent) but today England played abysmally and he was lucky to get his five but you have to credit Lyon for giving enticing balls to lure the batsmen. In my opinion if Fawad can get a bit more better (he looks good on pitches assisting spin) then these 2 can play together in subcontinent. But no doubt Lyon is the best spinner for Australia ever since his debut.

  • azzaman333 on December 28, 2013, 14:23 GMT

    @mondotv; Disagree with the sentiment that an offspin bowler should default to over the wicket to right handers. By bowling around, it forces the batsmen to play at a lot more deliveries as long as he can straighten it down the line. It actually brings the LBW and bat-pad dismissals more into play because no longer can the batsman just bat on off, thrust the pad outside the line and pretend to offer a shot to nullify the turn into the stumps. Sure, he needs to practice his over the wicket bowling too for variation, but around the wicket is a good default position for an offie that gets good revs on the ball like Lyon does.

  • AidanFX on December 28, 2013, 12:02 GMT

    It is true the overall batting of England was reckless today but the more I think about it, the more I think opinions about Bell's dismissal unfairly betray both Bell and Lyon. It is indeed the case, that a slowly lofted ball to mid on will invariably be described as "soft dismissal" - fair enough. But he was beaten by beautiful bowling nonetheless. He did not I believe, deliberately set out to hit a lofted shot. He was playing a standard cover drive - a shot he has played against Lyon early in his previous innings this series, for that matter a shot no doubt he would have played often to get off the mark against many a spinner through his career. He was beaten. He is unfortunate his team mates played far more reckless shots today which made his dismissal look much worse. That and the result of Lyon's flight and drift and angle.

  • jili1823 on December 28, 2013, 11:49 GMT

    Such a joy to finally see Lyon getting the appreciation he has deserved. The selectors have done well to stick to him despite fewer wickets to his name than they'd have liked. It shows that once they show a little faith in a bowler, he can repay that with figures like these. 100 isn't enough though, may you get several more.

  • Rowayton on December 28, 2013, 11:44 GMT

    Lyndon McPaul is right. Catches at mid off/long off are classic 'did him in flight' wickets for an offie. The people saying they were soft wickets don't know what they're talking about. That said, Nate will probably bowl equally well another day and take none for plenty. Such is a spin bowlers life.

  • PrasPunter on December 28, 2013, 11:33 GMT

    I got to admit that I never rated Lyon, given his failures in Adelaide against SA last year and the other occasions. But this series should be the defining one for him. Struck vital blows in both innings in Brisbane and throughout the series.

    Congrats for being one of the Ashes heroes !! Health and peace !!

  • Showbags88 on December 29, 2013, 1:54 GMT

    Lyon should develop quite nicely over the next 4-5 years. He has only really been learning his trade for the last couple of years. When Ajmal and Herath retire in the next few years he could possibly (amazingly) be called the best spinner in the world.

  • Chris_P on December 28, 2013, 21:47 GMT

    This guy is so humble & such a team man. Without Wade, he would have made the 100 wickets a lot quicker, last summer down here really did undo him with so many missed chances.

  • ygkd on December 28, 2013, 20:36 GMT

    Australia has gone for callow youth far, far too often, but Lyon was clearly an exception. Seemingly plucked from nowhere, he had something old-fashioned about him, without the cloud of potential injuries that bedevil the pace-bowling fraternity at the same age. For a while, though, it looked like Lyon would also go the way of other post-Warne Oz spinners, unloved and unsupported, or fail for a maddening lack of support behind the stumps. Lyon's journey shows how hard it is to make it as a Test cricketer and how much can turn on things outside a player's control. Call that luck if you will. Lyon has deserved his. I'm no young bloke and I haven't seen a better Australian offie.

  • Krade on December 28, 2013, 19:22 GMT

    "his thinning hair tousled so vigorously that what remains of it was lucky to survive"

    rarely have I laughed out loud at a statement on cricinfo. this was one of those rare occurences

  • on December 28, 2013, 14:56 GMT

    He doesn't get the credit he deserves, in my opinion he is a fantastic spinner that could get into any team (outside subcontinent) but today England played abysmally and he was lucky to get his five but you have to credit Lyon for giving enticing balls to lure the batsmen. In my opinion if Fawad can get a bit more better (he looks good on pitches assisting spin) then these 2 can play together in subcontinent. But no doubt Lyon is the best spinner for Australia ever since his debut.

  • azzaman333 on December 28, 2013, 14:23 GMT

    @mondotv; Disagree with the sentiment that an offspin bowler should default to over the wicket to right handers. By bowling around, it forces the batsmen to play at a lot more deliveries as long as he can straighten it down the line. It actually brings the LBW and bat-pad dismissals more into play because no longer can the batsman just bat on off, thrust the pad outside the line and pretend to offer a shot to nullify the turn into the stumps. Sure, he needs to practice his over the wicket bowling too for variation, but around the wicket is a good default position for an offie that gets good revs on the ball like Lyon does.

  • AidanFX on December 28, 2013, 12:02 GMT

    It is true the overall batting of England was reckless today but the more I think about it, the more I think opinions about Bell's dismissal unfairly betray both Bell and Lyon. It is indeed the case, that a slowly lofted ball to mid on will invariably be described as "soft dismissal" - fair enough. But he was beaten by beautiful bowling nonetheless. He did not I believe, deliberately set out to hit a lofted shot. He was playing a standard cover drive - a shot he has played against Lyon early in his previous innings this series, for that matter a shot no doubt he would have played often to get off the mark against many a spinner through his career. He was beaten. He is unfortunate his team mates played far more reckless shots today which made his dismissal look much worse. That and the result of Lyon's flight and drift and angle.

  • jili1823 on December 28, 2013, 11:49 GMT

    Such a joy to finally see Lyon getting the appreciation he has deserved. The selectors have done well to stick to him despite fewer wickets to his name than they'd have liked. It shows that once they show a little faith in a bowler, he can repay that with figures like these. 100 isn't enough though, may you get several more.

  • Rowayton on December 28, 2013, 11:44 GMT

    Lyndon McPaul is right. Catches at mid off/long off are classic 'did him in flight' wickets for an offie. The people saying they were soft wickets don't know what they're talking about. That said, Nate will probably bowl equally well another day and take none for plenty. Such is a spin bowlers life.

  • PrasPunter on December 28, 2013, 11:33 GMT

    I got to admit that I never rated Lyon, given his failures in Adelaide against SA last year and the other occasions. But this series should be the defining one for him. Struck vital blows in both innings in Brisbane and throughout the series.

    Congrats for being one of the Ashes heroes !! Health and peace !!

  • PrasPunter on December 28, 2013, 11:31 GMT

    One of the defining moments of this Ashes series is the slog-swept six by Lyon off Swann in Adelaide. Not a mug with the bat either, as demonstrated by his 20s and 25s. A very handy contribution today with bat as well. This bloke is growing in confidence every day. Congrats on a fab century !!

  • electric_loco_WAP4 on December 28, 2013, 11:29 GMT

    Lyon is by far the best spinner in the world - after the magician Ajmal - and can claim a proud 2nd place after today. Also being 1 of the youngest blokes going around the int. level expect him to claim well in excess to 400 - maybe 500 - wkts in his career . He will also get a lot of chance to pick up wkts in favorable conds. when Aus tours in sub cont. Suffice to say the next great spinner after Warne/Murali era has arrived in the form of lion hearted Lyon. And 1 of Aus cricket's most imp. puzzles in the post legends/Warne era ' who after Warne ?' is answered. Here is the new 'Warne' ! It's N Lyon !!

  • xtrafalgarx on December 28, 2013, 11:13 GMT

    I'm so happy for Nathan Lyon. Johnson, Harris, Siddle and Watson had been talked up so it was up to Nathan Lyon to step out of the shadows, it's funny because he usually ends up near the top of the wicket takers list. That indian tour, in the end he was actually the leading wicket taker! Funny, isn't it?

    I agree with @mondotv that over the wicket should be the default, but hey, if he keeps getting wickets from around the wicket, who are we to say otherwise? Though i do hope he is working on the offspin from over.

  • CustomKid on December 28, 2013, 10:52 GMT

    I have been a long time fan of young Lyon. People expecting another Shane warne are delusional, the guy was a once in a life time bowler a total freak. Lyon is also relatively inexperienced in terms of first class cricket. He'll have a good career by the time he finishes his test playing days. Comments on the daily summary have been harsh saying he was lucky, but I'm glad this article gave him some due credit, especially the bell wicket. He did him in flight beautifly, anyone wanting to argue just watch bells back leg. Bell thought he was to the pitch was soundly deceived with flight and drop and was way over balanced when he played it causing him to spoon the catch. The Aussies aren't home yet given the way both teams have batted but they're in the drivers seat for sure. Regardless come tomorrow there will be a win, loss, or tie.

  • on December 28, 2013, 10:39 GMT

    Dwelling too much on Eng's bad batting and poor shot selection this innings doesnt give Lyon enough credit.The way their batsmen got out is the classic way batsmen get out to good offspinners.Lyon's poisened offerings were disguised as delicious pies though they all behaved a li'l bit differently; thereby successfully baiting Eng into playing shot's they shouldnt have.Bells delivery had more sideways drift and less forward momentum than expected making him reach for his cover drive; a shot he usually nails with precision,but this time spooning the gentlest of catches.This was perhaps the best ball of Lyon's spell though it appeared to be the tamest of dismissals.The Stokes delivery had both drift and dip making him twist his shot inside out at a low trajectory.Broad's was another perfectly flighted delivery that had the appearance of being drivable. The poorest of the shot's against Lyon were probably Bresnan's and KP's though KP's lofted attempt was perfectly understandable at 9 down.

  • Smithy65 on December 28, 2013, 9:52 GMT

    Although I am English, I am happy for Lyon. His rise from being called a 'pathetic' Adelaide Oval groundsman by Kevin Pietersen to winning the Ashes, via a great deal of hard work and humility, is a wonderful story. And, typically for Lyon, it is an underrated story.

  • Beertjie on December 28, 2013, 9:50 GMT

    Beautiful piece about a fabulously humble guy. Let me put up my hand as among the many who until recently have failed to appreciate him. Great achievement Nate. May that total grow to several hundred.

  • Ragav999 on December 28, 2013, 9:46 GMT

    Well done Lyon. I have never been a fan of his but this performance has convinced me that he should be persisted with.

  • wix99 on December 28, 2013, 9:35 GMT

    Nathan Lyon is still young at 26. He now looks like he is a firmly established member of the team. Along with Steve Smith and David Warner he will form part of the core leadership group in a few years.

  • Gaswell on December 28, 2013, 9:32 GMT

    I have always rated Nathan Lyon and it is a great joy to see him finally appreciated. This is a great milestone for a finger spinner.

  • dunger.bob on December 28, 2013, 9:20 GMT

    He's got it all at his feet really. At 26 he could be a force for 10 years or so. He probably won't peak for another 5 years so as long as his fitness and form hold up, who knows how many wickets he could end up with. 400+ doesn't sound out of the question to me.

    Anyway, good on him. He's been treated abysmally but he's still there, so hopefully he can buckle up for a long ride now.

  • on December 28, 2013, 9:20 GMT

    Welldone Nathan ...I remeber you playing One day cricket for Sth Australia and thinking gee this guy has something !

  • Sulaimaan91 on December 28, 2013, 9:18 GMT

    I myself was shocked when I saw the 100 wicket being shown on the giant screen given that he was never a regular in the playing XI.Do remember his first delivery on debut when he got Sanga out.

  • Dangertroy on December 28, 2013, 9:14 GMT

    Well done Nathan Lyon - lets hope he is underappreciated no more.I wrote in jest last night that his batting prowess would be giving England nightmares, but now they will be equally worried about his bowling. That said, he is still yet to be dismissed in this series with the bat...

  • on December 28, 2013, 9:08 GMT

    Congratulations Nathan Lyon a quiet achiever but never underestimated in my opinion!

  • Unifex on December 28, 2013, 9:06 GMT

    Always been a big fan of Lyon. He can get good players out (Sangakarra first ball in Tests; Sacin and Pietersen 4 times each), and that's very valuable in a spinner. Great to see him get five in Australia.

  • on December 28, 2013, 9:04 GMT

    A fitting reward for a great bloke and a really underestimated Test cricketer. By the way - not a bad Test number 11 either. At last count over 50 runs without being dismissed in this series and can be relied on to shore up an end. Lyon's Test spot must surely be guaranteed for a while now. The next selector who suggests he should make way for the next whiz kid to appear, should himself be dropped.

  • mondotv on December 28, 2013, 8:42 GMT

    Very pleased for Lyon. Still think he probably needs to learn to bowl over the wicket more to right handers (should be the default instead of around), but like most Test off-spinners he is still learning and he gets better with each innings he bowls. That's important - he is going forwards rather than backwards. Today Lyon hopefully learnt that when conditions suit, flight can be a bigger weapon than spin and even great batsmen can be deceived by the combination of both... put it in the memory banks. South Africa do not have a great record against quality spin bowling.

  • HenryPorter on December 28, 2013, 8:21 GMT

    Have a look at the fastest to 100 Test wickets list: Nathan Lyon has gotten there faster than Wasim Akram, Devon Malcolm, Lasith Malinga, Javagal Srinath etc. And as fast as Anderson, Herath, Morkel, Siddle, Vettori, Walsh & more. Hats off Mr Lyon!

  • Brownly on December 28, 2013, 8:20 GMT

    This man is a gem for the Aussie team and deserves his place. Mike Hussey saw his character and value long before the rest of the establishment, and Mr Cricket is one of the most fair-minded and respectable voices in world cricket - even after his retirement.

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  • Brownly on December 28, 2013, 8:20 GMT

    This man is a gem for the Aussie team and deserves his place. Mike Hussey saw his character and value long before the rest of the establishment, and Mr Cricket is one of the most fair-minded and respectable voices in world cricket - even after his retirement.

  • HenryPorter on December 28, 2013, 8:21 GMT

    Have a look at the fastest to 100 Test wickets list: Nathan Lyon has gotten there faster than Wasim Akram, Devon Malcolm, Lasith Malinga, Javagal Srinath etc. And as fast as Anderson, Herath, Morkel, Siddle, Vettori, Walsh & more. Hats off Mr Lyon!

  • mondotv on December 28, 2013, 8:42 GMT

    Very pleased for Lyon. Still think he probably needs to learn to bowl over the wicket more to right handers (should be the default instead of around), but like most Test off-spinners he is still learning and he gets better with each innings he bowls. That's important - he is going forwards rather than backwards. Today Lyon hopefully learnt that when conditions suit, flight can be a bigger weapon than spin and even great batsmen can be deceived by the combination of both... put it in the memory banks. South Africa do not have a great record against quality spin bowling.

  • on December 28, 2013, 9:04 GMT

    A fitting reward for a great bloke and a really underestimated Test cricketer. By the way - not a bad Test number 11 either. At last count over 50 runs without being dismissed in this series and can be relied on to shore up an end. Lyon's Test spot must surely be guaranteed for a while now. The next selector who suggests he should make way for the next whiz kid to appear, should himself be dropped.

  • Unifex on December 28, 2013, 9:06 GMT

    Always been a big fan of Lyon. He can get good players out (Sangakarra first ball in Tests; Sacin and Pietersen 4 times each), and that's very valuable in a spinner. Great to see him get five in Australia.

  • on December 28, 2013, 9:08 GMT

    Congratulations Nathan Lyon a quiet achiever but never underestimated in my opinion!

  • Dangertroy on December 28, 2013, 9:14 GMT

    Well done Nathan Lyon - lets hope he is underappreciated no more.I wrote in jest last night that his batting prowess would be giving England nightmares, but now they will be equally worried about his bowling. That said, he is still yet to be dismissed in this series with the bat...

  • Sulaimaan91 on December 28, 2013, 9:18 GMT

    I myself was shocked when I saw the 100 wicket being shown on the giant screen given that he was never a regular in the playing XI.Do remember his first delivery on debut when he got Sanga out.

  • on December 28, 2013, 9:20 GMT

    Welldone Nathan ...I remeber you playing One day cricket for Sth Australia and thinking gee this guy has something !

  • dunger.bob on December 28, 2013, 9:20 GMT

    He's got it all at his feet really. At 26 he could be a force for 10 years or so. He probably won't peak for another 5 years so as long as his fitness and form hold up, who knows how many wickets he could end up with. 400+ doesn't sound out of the question to me.

    Anyway, good on him. He's been treated abysmally but he's still there, so hopefully he can buckle up for a long ride now.