West Indies v Australia, 2nd Test, Port-of-Spain, 3rd day

Now it's Lyon's turn

No longer a country boy and a groundsman, Nathan Lyon is now a professional conjurer, seeking to fool international batsmen for a living on his travels

Daniel Brettig at Queen's Park Oval

April 17, 2012

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Nathan Lyon collected the second five-wicket haul of his career, West Indies v Australia, 2nd Test, Port-of-Spain, April 17, 2012
Nathan Lyon has learnt much from the senior members of the side © AFP
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On Nathan Lyon's first afternoon as an international cricketer, he celebrated his first five-wicket haul in Test cricket like it was - because it was - the thrill of his life.

Having taken a ripping return catch to end Sri Lanka's first innings in Galle, Lyon went on a brief gallop around the field, ball pointed skyward in his right hand, before he was surrounded by team-mates who seemed almost as surprised as they were thrilled. On the team balcony, the recently appointed bowling coach Craig McDermott clapped vigorously and laughed, a broad grin stretching across his face.

Twelve Tests and a little more than seven months later, Lyon greeted his second return of five, against the West Indies in Trinidad, with a far more modest celebration. If the first had been rejoiced in the way a child scampers into a toy store, the second was marked by a far more worldly and workaday observance of a job well done. No longer a country boy and a groundsman, Lyon is now a professional conjurer, seeking to fool international batsmen for a living on his travels.

Lyon knew his job was to take wickets on a sharply spinning Queen's Park Oval surface, a pitch that appeared so favourable to spin bowlers that the tour selectors picked two spinners in an Australian Test side for the first time since 2008. He also knew he had not taken terribly many wickets in his past five matches, playing only a minor role against India then struggling for traction in Barbados.

"It's obviously different playing my first Test match and being able to grab five wickets but here today has been a hard toil for the whole Australian side," Lyon said. "I'm over the moon, even though I didn't run around like I did in Galle. Still over the moon and really happy with the way things panned out but, saying that, we've still got a lot of work to do to win this Test match."

Between Galle and Port-of-Spain, Lyon has developed a good deal, growing in seniority within the Australian team and earning respect from all for his determination and sheer enthusiasm. His natural gifts of flight, loop and spin are being slowly melded to other improvements, whether it be to vary his angles on the crease a little more or to follow through with as much zest as possible, as the former West Indian spin bowler Lance Gibbs had suggested.

Not every match of the 12 has panned out ideally for Lyon, but to this point a return of 35 wickets at 28.94 provides a strong endorsement of his capabilities. Even though Lyon is still developing and grooving his bowling action and variations, his figures are still the most comfortably handsome of any spin bowler tried since Shane Warne retired.

"Unbelievably," Lyon said when asked how much he had grown over the period. "I've learnt so much learning off the greats like Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Mike Hussey and [the coach] Mickey Arthur. So I've learnt a lot about myself, about cricket and just the chance to play for Australia is just fantastic.

"Everyone's got their different opinion. I'm not interested in what Geoff Lawson has to say, really. I'm working with my coaches and my close people I talk to and trust, I didn't even know anyone was talking about my technique. I'm happy with the way the ball's coming out. I always look to having ways to improve but I'm quite happy. I've got no need to complain at all."

The return of Michael Beer to the Australian Test team to work in tandem with Lyon may have served as an important catalyst for the man with 12 matches to his credit. Lyon and Beer, both men of few words when speaking in public, get along well together, and have spent plenty of time bowling together in the nets if not in Test matches. But Clarke's decision to grant Beer the new ball instead of Lyon on day two in Trinidad had to spur Lyon's competitiveness, which had been glimpsed by all who witnessed his exceptionally dogged batting contribution at Kensington Oval in the first Test.

Challenged to produce a major performance on day three, Lyon burst through the West Indian batting with the second new ball, only seven overs old when Clarke gave him his chance. He spun it sharply, looped it expertly and landed it consistently. Darren Sammy presented his wicket in handsome gift-wrapping, but the rest were beaten fairly and squarely by the spinning, bouncing ball, as the wicketkeeper Matthew Wade and short leg Ed Cowan supported Lyon grandly.

"The ball is a lot harder obviously. And it either hits the leather side and skids on like we saw with Michael Beer or it actually grabs off the seam because the seam is a little harder," Lyon said. "I enjoy bowling with the new ball and would love to bowl with the new ball every chance I get. I'm loving bowling at the moment and just have to keep working hard.

"Me and Beery get on really well and we actually work with each other quite well, always asking each other for advice and so forth. It's great fun bowling with him and playing alongside him."

Perhaps the best measure of how Lyon has advanced from Galle to Port-of-Spain can be seen in the appearance this series of another delivery, seldom bowled but notable nonetheless. More a leg break than a doosra, Lyon delivers it over the wrist, very nearly in the manner of a wrist-spinner.

When he had taken his five wickets in Galle, Lyon spoke modestly of the fact that he simply bowled his stock ball and varies the pace and line in collaboration with the vagaries of the pitch. There was still a hint of the former Adelaide Oval groundsman in his voice. In Trinidad, asked about the variation spied by television cameras, he responded with the sort of answer a showman picks up after a few months on the road. "I've been bowling that for five years," he said, "but you blokes just haven't seen it."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by Meety on (April 18, 2012, 21:10 GMT)

@mikey76 - whether Lyon is in Swann's league or not is irrelevant & subjective, the fact is though on a reasonable sample size of test matches, his stats almost mirror Swann's. I am not saying he is better than Swann (most reasonable observers of the game too), the comments you are getting into a hissy fit over a just chest beaters!

Posted by AKS286 on (April 18, 2012, 18:51 GMT)

beer bowls far better than lyon. except shivy all wickets are world's worst tailenders are his victim. lyon's most of 30 wickets are of tailenders. lyon did't perform in SL pitch it means WoRST. he bowls mostly to sammy,shilling,roach,edward and beer mostly bowls to specialist batsmen & baugh who is better batsman than tailenders. beer's line and length are far far better than lyon. if beer get chance to play continues 11 test he will be one of the world's best spinner. go beer go destroy the windies batting. cheeeeeers for BEER.

Posted by mikey76 on (April 18, 2012, 16:41 GMT)

Loving the ridiculous overestimates from our Australian friends. The guy gets a five-for on a helpful track 12 tests after his first one and he's "second only to Ajmal"! He's not in same ball park as him or Swann who just came fresh off the back of 16 wickets against SL in their own back yard. Lyon, like the other half dozen australian spinners tried recently is just average, nothing more.

Posted by Dubious on (April 18, 2012, 16:00 GMT)

Front Foot, you're right--Lyon has some way to go before he's in Swann's class. But considering Lyon is has already played 11 Tests at 24 gives him a distinct advantage and time to get to that class. Swann was 29 when he started his Test career and didn't launch immediately.

Posted by RandyOZ on (April 18, 2012, 14:26 GMT)

Second only to Ajmal and once again proves it. With a better average than Swann, the ICC just have more egg on their face!

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (April 18, 2012, 12:46 GMT)

Lyon has one hell of a long way to go to get to Swann's level. But I'm being optimistic for him: Swann, having spent 3 golden years dominating the rankings, is just another level of a bowler. He is famous for being the biggest turner of the ball since Warne, and persisting with club cricketers like Lyon will only lose Australia the Ashes yet again.

Posted by mukesh_LOVE.cricket on (April 18, 2012, 8:30 GMT)

Lyon has got the basics right , good flight loop and decent turn , also remember he hardly has any first class experience.. if he continues to work hard and keep to his strengths he will develop into a very good spinner , even swann and ajamal became world class only in the last few years , lyon too can be as good as them , given the time and proper guidance

Posted by   on (April 18, 2012, 5:45 GMT)

Good on you, Lyon. I really quite like the way he bowls - he's quite like Swann, good orthodox off-spin. I look forward to seeing them duel in the next ashes. Beer's a good player (and seems like a pleasant fellow!) and it would be good to cultivate him as a second or reserve spinner.

Incidentally, all spinners are going to have good days and bad - Warne got a few hauls of 0 for 100, they all do from time to time! All batsmen get a few ducks as well, even Bradman! It's crazy to judge people on one test match, or even five.

Posted by leggetinoz on (April 18, 2012, 5:21 GMT)

Rahulcricket> Us aussies would have loved to have seen how Lyon faired against the "worlds best players of spin bowling" however they seldom lasted long enough against our pacers to give him a challenge.

Posted by Dashgar on (April 18, 2012, 4:43 GMT)

@Rahulcricket, Lyon averages 28 and he's already played against Sri Lanka, South Africa, New Zealand, India and West Indies. England, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are the only test sides he hasn't faced. I'd be surprised if you'd rate them as the 4 best nations against spin in world cricket. And for the record he got Chanderpaul out, so I don't know what your argument even is. (Also turn off capslock). I also think Beer has done alright. Through his First Class career he has done a ton better in second innings and he is yet to bowl in a second innings in tests.

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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