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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
April 17, 2012
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 hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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