England v Australia, 3rd Investec Test, Old Trafford, 2nd day August 2, 2013

Bowlers finally given something to work with

Australia know their attack is their strength but feeble batting at Trent Bridge and Lord's made the bowlers redundant. Now is the time for Lyon and company to prove their worth.

Graham McKenzie was once dropped after taking ten wickets in a Test against India. Nobody could really explain why, but it was speculated that the board wanted a more competitive series than his bowling would allow. His next opportunity came in an Ashes Test at Old Trafford, where McKenzie helped bowl Australia to victory.

Nathan Lyon was once dropped after taking nine wickets in a Test against India. Nobody could really explain why, but it was speculated that the selectors wanted a more competitive series than his bowling would allow. His next opportunity came in an Ashes Test at Old Trafford. The next three days will tell if the stories continue to run parallel.

Like McKenzie, Lyon is easy-going and thus easy to let go. The quiet ones never kick up a stink. But there is no question that both men were part of their country's best attack at the time of their axing. Lyon did not pick up a wicket on the second afternoon in Manchester but he could have had Alastair Cook cheaply, had Michael Clarke at slip moved a little more fluently.

His flight, dip and turn left England's batsmen edgy, and he built pressure: 51 of his 60 deliveries were dot balls. Certainly he gave the selectors reason to regret leaving him out at Trent Bridge and Lord's. There, they had gambled on Ashton Agar, a 19-year-old still learning his craft. Agar failed to take a wicket at Lord's; who knows what Lyon, Australia's leading spinner since Shane Warne, might have done.

Lyon isn't the only member of this attack with a point to prove. Mitchell Starc was dropped after the loss in Nottingham and was outbowled by Jackson Bird in the tour match at Hove. When asked on the first morning at Old Trafford why Starc had been preferred over Bird, the coach Darren Lehmann said the main criteria separating them was that Starc would create footmarks for Lyon.

Starc must show that his spikes aren't all he brings to the side. He began well on the second afternoon, curling a few deliveries away from Cook and for the most part keeping things tight. Ryan Harris was hampered by a stomach bug that forced him temporarily from the field, but by the standards of the brittle Harris, that's an ailment Australia can handle.

While the pressure built elsewhere the man who reaped the first two rewards was Peter Siddle. For the first time in his Test career Siddle was not one of the first four bowlers used, relegated below Lyon and Shane Watson. After some stretches that made Merv Hughes' warm-ups look subtle, Siddle was given his chance and grabbed it.

Whereas Starc at times moved the ball too much to tempt Cook, Siddle made Joe Root play and straightened it just enough to tickle the edge. His bustle also accounted for the nightwatchman Tim Bresnan, and an edge from Jonathan Trott in Siddle's final over fell just short of Clarke at second slip. It was Siddle who challenged England on the first day of the series and Siddle who kept the pressure on them here.

Of course, only two wickets have been taken, but for the first time in the series the mountain of work asked of the bowlers has been preceded by a mountain of runs. A draw is of very little value, but Australia's bowlers must remain patient, building pressure, compiling maidens, maintaining their discipline. They must not get carried away by the runs behind them.

The last time an Australian made a Test hundred - Clarke, not surprisingly - the opposition responded by building a 192-run lead. The venue was Chennai, the assailant MS Dhoni, the victim Lyon. If he tossed the ball up, he was driven down the ground; if he went quicker and shorter he was dispatched square. Lyon's confidence was knocked, and he was dropped for the next Test.

Now, Lyon appears sure of himself. His first ten overs displayed skill and patience superior to any of Agar, Glenn Maxwell or Xavier Doherty, all of whom he has made way for this year. He might not do a McKenzie, but like the man they called Garth, the man they call Gaz has his chance at Old Trafford.

Australia entered this series knowing their attack was their strength but feeble batting at Trent Bridge and Lord's made the bowlers redundant. Now is the time for Lyon and company to prove their worth.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Brenton on August 3, 2013, 12:12 GMT

    Lyon is the best Ozzie spinner on this tour and should have been selected before a 19 year old debutant.

    I would like to see him bowl a little bit slower, if he slowed it down the dip he gets would be more pronounced and he would get more spin off the pitch. He would be more dangerous, he does give the ball enough of a rip.

  • Dummy4 on August 3, 2013, 9:11 GMT

    @HenryPorter, I think you are right, Aus must make themselves greater than the sum of their respective pieces and they have the cricketers to do that. Meanwhile we can just watch and enjoy the growth of Lyon and Agar amongst others. In any case we have had 5 very good to great leggies over the last 80 years, so maybe the next one isn't too far away! It may not be fair on the young blokes but i'm also pretty keen to see what Fawad can do on a Test Match pitch. His FC record may not be great right now but i'm not sure that he's been getting too much assistance from the pitches either.

  • disco on August 3, 2013, 8:47 GMT

    @Wefinishthis on (August 3, 2013, 3:42 GMT) "This idea that bowlers need runs to bowl with is a complete and utter myth." Your logic is badly flawed here as I'm certain you know. Bowling first there's not thought about the other teams total obviously but there is a thought about what is par. However bowing second with a low score that is known to be below par forces the bowlers to not bowl with freedom to back themselves.

  • Henry on August 3, 2013, 8:45 GMT

    Probably fruitless to compare Agar vs Lyon at this stage - and indeed Lyon vs other recents - although in terms of current player management, Lyon and Agar might productively motivate each other. The greater context is that the recently-selected Oz teams have usually had at least 3 bats with a bunch of Test wickets and at least 3 bowlers with Test 50s. The single card-carrying spinner selected is usually "added spice with backup" rather than the rare and idealized match-winning Warne/Murali/Kumble/Swann/etc.

  • Dummy4 on August 3, 2013, 7:34 GMT

    @Wefinishthis, so you don't think the bowlers have been let down by the batsmen in this series?

    @Dunger.Bob, I think its a case of two crocks making a rock! In any case I think Smith is another serious bowling option on this track so we pretty much have a 6 man attack, barring breakdowns, as a Captain you couldn't want for more on a flat track.

  • Cameron on August 3, 2013, 7:09 GMT

    @altafpatel - 527 is not a winning total? What is then? The Australian bowling yesterday was excellent. If they keep it up they will be a handful. England under pressure and I always think they lose it under pressure especially their bowlers. Should be an interesting day! One big total does not guarantee the opposition a big total despite what anyone says about the pitch. The batsman still have to work for it.

  • David on August 3, 2013, 6:38 GMT

    Showing my age, but I reckon the leaving out of McKenzie was the original 'informed player management'. They wanted to trial a couple of other pace bowlers like Connolly and Freeman before the 1968 England tour. And I think Lyon's reputation suffered a bit unnecessarily after that first Indian test. He was flogged, sure, but that innings by Dhoni was one the great attacking innings that I have ever seen - not enough credit has been given to the batsman.

  • Altaf on August 3, 2013, 6:25 GMT

    Still it's to remember that 527 is not winning total, second, Eng has lost just Root and night watchman, their strong batting line-up is still intact. So let's wait and watch...

  • Dummy4 on August 3, 2013, 5:07 GMT

    39.52, that is Nathan Lyon's first class average in 40 matches, bowling to the worst players of slow bowling in the world in the Sheffield Shield. This veneration of Lyon is utterly ridiculous

  • Dave on August 3, 2013, 5:03 GMT

    Would be great if Lyon could go through em. But rain forecast for next 3 days. Rain was always gonna wreck a test sometime this series. Just such a pity for Lyon and Australia that it could be this one now.