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.
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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

  • humdrum on August 3, 2013, 2:07 GMT

    On the evidence seen so far, Lyon will be more than a handful on this wkt as time goes by.All he needs is good support at the other end so the pressure is maintained.a pity Clarke missed out on the chance given by Cook,else it would have been panic stations in the English camp.Let's see how the English go about chasing a mammoth total,it will be a test of character and ability.Not the same as flogging a tired aussie attack when your team is on top. What a great leveller this game is.

  • Barnesy4444 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.

  • 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_bob 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.

  • HenryPorter 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.

  • 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.

  • milepost 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.

  • Rowayton 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.

  • AltafPatel 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...

  • 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

  • humdrum on August 3, 2013, 2:07 GMT

    On the evidence seen so far, Lyon will be more than a handful on this wkt as time goes by.All he needs is good support at the other end so the pressure is maintained.a pity Clarke missed out on the chance given by Cook,else it would have been panic stations in the English camp.Let's see how the English go about chasing a mammoth total,it will be a test of character and ability.Not the same as flogging a tired aussie attack when your team is on top. What a great leveller this game is.

  • Barnesy4444 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.

  • 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_bob 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.

  • HenryPorter 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.

  • 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.

  • milepost 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.

  • Rowayton 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.

  • AltafPatel 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...

  • 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

  • DavoWilly 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.

  • heathrf1974 on August 3, 2013, 4:02 GMT

    Lyon, Khawaja and Hughes have not been treated well by selectors in recent times. I think Watson is under some pressure.

  • Wefinishthis on August 3, 2013, 3:42 GMT

    This idea that bowlers need runs to bowl with is a complete and utter myth. What if they're bowling first? How do you explain that? The 80's WI, 90'/00's Aus and current SA's bowlers have all ripped through teams even when the batting failed. At the end of the day, it's all about how accurate the bowlers bowl. If they spray the ball or keep bowling at pads or half-volley's, they're going to be chasing large totals often, regardless of what their team's batsmen score. Those bowlers usually average 30+. If they keep bowling in that corridor of uncertainty with enough movement to find the edge or stumps, they're going to be keeping the pressure on the batsmen. Those bowlers usually average 20-25. The team that does that best usually wins the test match. Lyon will pick up wickets this match - no doubt about that, but whether or not it will be without conceding runs and giving Australia's batsmen a tough 5th day survival against Swann remains to be seen.

  • dunger.bob on August 3, 2013, 2:50 GMT

    As good bowler as Harris is, it always worries me that he will do a Patto and break down mid match. I reckon that's half the reason Watson seems to be a permanent fixture. They like to have his crock body available as cover if one of the other crocks breaks down.

    I'm a bit of a Starc fan but he needs to really dig in now and show his worth. A little bit more wrist control and he could have the ball on a string, but he looses his shape too much and his control goes out the window. .. Devastating on a good day though.

    I really feel for Lyon. He's better than a lot of people reckon but has the unfortunate trait of being super unlucky. .. eg, if Wade had hung onto either of the chances (one each side of tea) he forced out of DuPlessis in that horrific draw, who knows what might happened in that series.

    Anyway, it's all right there in front of you boys. Keep your nerve, don't be too impatient and just play naturally. .. You're now close enough if you're good enough.

  • on August 3, 2013, 1:04 GMT

    Bothe Petersen and Bell will be crucial. How quickly Aussies get these two out will determine their chances. at some stage bothe a smith and Clarke may have to roll their hands. More than roll their hands perhaps.

  • on August 3, 2013, 0:55 GMT

    "Starc at times moved the ball too much to tempt Cook", to quote from the above report. Here is a lesson to the new breed of medium paced Indian swing bowlers, good though they are! Subtle swing is better than copious swing; the latter will be left alone by the batsmen, whereas the former will tempt them onto a snick!

  • on August 3, 2013, 0:46 GMT

    harris, bird, siddle and lyon are Australia's best bowling attack.

  • on August 3, 2013, 0:44 GMT

    Jackson bird should play next test match.

  • Unifex on August 2, 2013, 23:22 GMT

    Couldn't agree more that Lyon is part of Australia's best bowling line-up. He gets dip and spin, and can get good players out - Sangakkara was his first Test wicket, and he's got Sachin out three times. He should be quite a handful on a turning track, like he was in his last Test in India, where he took nine wickets.

  • OneEyedAussie on August 2, 2013, 23:16 GMT

    I really wish Nathan Lyon the best for the 3rd day, but he has been in this position before and failed (i.e. Adelaide 2012).

  • zvina on August 2, 2013, 22:23 GMT

    Interesting article - with this logic England should have dropped Swan to make the series compettive!! I think with spin you can only surprise India once and that's probably the reason they were dropped..lol

  • on August 2, 2013, 22:17 GMT

    Gazza looked pretty good to me, pretty unlucky not to get the captain already. I don't see the pitch turning any less as the match goes on... Looking forward to seeing Smith get the ball in hand too. How good is Siddle?!

  • on August 2, 2013, 22:17 GMT

    Gazza looked pretty good to me, pretty unlucky not to get the captain already. I don't see the pitch turning any less as the match goes on... Looking forward to seeing Smith get the ball in hand too. How good is Siddle?!

  • zvina on August 2, 2013, 22:23 GMT

    Interesting article - with this logic England should have dropped Swan to make the series compettive!! I think with spin you can only surprise India once and that's probably the reason they were dropped..lol

  • OneEyedAussie on August 2, 2013, 23:16 GMT

    I really wish Nathan Lyon the best for the 3rd day, but he has been in this position before and failed (i.e. Adelaide 2012).

  • Unifex on August 2, 2013, 23:22 GMT

    Couldn't agree more that Lyon is part of Australia's best bowling line-up. He gets dip and spin, and can get good players out - Sangakkara was his first Test wicket, and he's got Sachin out three times. He should be quite a handful on a turning track, like he was in his last Test in India, where he took nine wickets.

  • on August 3, 2013, 0:44 GMT

    Jackson bird should play next test match.

  • on August 3, 2013, 0:46 GMT

    harris, bird, siddle and lyon are Australia's best bowling attack.

  • on August 3, 2013, 0:55 GMT

    "Starc at times moved the ball too much to tempt Cook", to quote from the above report. Here is a lesson to the new breed of medium paced Indian swing bowlers, good though they are! Subtle swing is better than copious swing; the latter will be left alone by the batsmen, whereas the former will tempt them onto a snick!

  • on August 3, 2013, 1:04 GMT

    Bothe Petersen and Bell will be crucial. How quickly Aussies get these two out will determine their chances. at some stage bothe a smith and Clarke may have to roll their hands. More than roll their hands perhaps.

  • dunger.bob on August 3, 2013, 2:50 GMT

    As good bowler as Harris is, it always worries me that he will do a Patto and break down mid match. I reckon that's half the reason Watson seems to be a permanent fixture. They like to have his crock body available as cover if one of the other crocks breaks down.

    I'm a bit of a Starc fan but he needs to really dig in now and show his worth. A little bit more wrist control and he could have the ball on a string, but he looses his shape too much and his control goes out the window. .. Devastating on a good day though.

    I really feel for Lyon. He's better than a lot of people reckon but has the unfortunate trait of being super unlucky. .. eg, if Wade had hung onto either of the chances (one each side of tea) he forced out of DuPlessis in that horrific draw, who knows what might happened in that series.

    Anyway, it's all right there in front of you boys. Keep your nerve, don't be too impatient and just play naturally. .. You're now close enough if you're good enough.

  • Wefinishthis on August 3, 2013, 3:42 GMT

    This idea that bowlers need runs to bowl with is a complete and utter myth. What if they're bowling first? How do you explain that? The 80's WI, 90'/00's Aus and current SA's bowlers have all ripped through teams even when the batting failed. At the end of the day, it's all about how accurate the bowlers bowl. If they spray the ball or keep bowling at pads or half-volley's, they're going to be chasing large totals often, regardless of what their team's batsmen score. Those bowlers usually average 30+. If they keep bowling in that corridor of uncertainty with enough movement to find the edge or stumps, they're going to be keeping the pressure on the batsmen. Those bowlers usually average 20-25. The team that does that best usually wins the test match. Lyon will pick up wickets this match - no doubt about that, but whether or not it will be without conceding runs and giving Australia's batsmen a tough 5th day survival against Swann remains to be seen.