Matches (32)
BAN v NZ (1)
Abu Dhabi T10 (6)
IND v AUS (1)
Legends League (2)
SA v WI (A tour) (1)
Sheffield Shield (3)
Hazare Trophy (18)
Guest Column

Memo to Nathan Lyon

Spin the ball hard, mix up the pace, follow your instincts

Ashley Mallett
Ashley Mallett
Clarke seems to have a rapport with Lyon's skill and style  •  AFP

Clarke seems to have a rapport with Lyon's skill and style  •  AFP

Dear Nathan,
Mate, keep spinning hard and getting the ball above the level of the batsman's eyes. You seem to know instinctively what I took years to learn: that the key to spin bowling is not where the ball lands but how it arrives. Spin hard, drive up and over your braced front leg with a high bowling arm and you can defeat the best batsmen on any track, anywhere, anytime.
My greatest practical lesson was bowling to the Nawab of Pataudi in India long ago. The great old leggie Clarrie Grimmett, who got Don Bradman plenty of times in his long career, told me to spin up and rely heavily on my stock ball: if you bowl hard-spun offbreaks on an attacking line and change your pace, you will get wickets. Like Shane Warne, when first brought on to bowl I simply bowled my stock ball, hard-spun and at slightly different paces, to ensure that I stayed in the attack.
If you played under Bill Lawry, as I did first up in my career, and went for a few runs in your first over, that might be your lot for the day. Thankfully I came to play under Ian Chappell, who was terrific, as was Mark Taylor down the track with Warne, Tim May and Mark Waugh. I think, too, that Michael Clarke is in the Chappell-Taylor mould. He tries to make things happen and he definitely has a rapport with your style and skill and will back you.
I love the way you spin up on the attacking line against the right-handers. Sometimes the right-hand batsman can snick an offbreak to first slip simply because he has allowed for greater turn in towards him. A ball with more over-spin on it may turn in a little, but not as much as the batsman expects, and that gives you a better chance of getting an outside edge. The one you got Doug Bracewell with in Brisbane looked like the sort of delivery I'm talking about. Ian Chappell took 17 catches off me in Tests, mostly at first slip, and most of those were the result of my getting more over-spin on those particular deliveries, while the batsmen allowed for a greater breadth of turn.
After my first 10 Tests and 46 wickets, Bob Simpson came to me and said, "Where's your arm ball?"
I replied: "Arm ball? What's that, Simmo?"
The great Australian opening batsman showed me the way to hold the ball, running your index finger down the seam.
"That's not for me, Bob," I said. "I bowl offbreaks. I'm not a swing bowler."
Bruce Yardley used to say the best "arm ball" was the offie he bowled that carried straight on.
Jim Laker bowled an undercutter but some turned a good way and some went like a legcutter. I put it to him: "Jim, the opposition are nine down. One ball to go and six to win. The slogging right-hander is in and you know he'll hit with the tide and try to win the game with a six. What happens if the undercutter you bowl doesn't leave the right-hander, but spins in from the off?"
He eyeballed me and in his laconic Yorkshire accent announced: "We lose!"
You have to give a bit to get a bit, and mate, you do that instinctively. I have no hesitation in saying that you are the best Australian offie I've seen in nearly 30 years. But you have to get your field placement right. Against the left-handers you simply have to have a straight midwicket. Why? Because we need to cover the straight-bat shots with a straight midwicket and deepish mid-on. As long as you bowl hard-spun, dipping offies on a line of middle stump, the batsman needs to take a huge risk to hit against the spin.
When you bowl to a right-hander, your off-side field is vital; conversely, when operating to a left-hander, your on-side field is paramount. As offies we are trying to get the right-hand batsman to hit against the spin to the off side, and left-handers to the on side.
Warne needed his straight midwicket to work a similar strategy. Against the left-handers you need to bowl a straighter line, that is, middle, middle and leg, so that if they miss you might hit off stump. That line, because of the manner in which the ball is coming towards the batsman, hard-spun and dipping, will make it tough for the best left-handers to play you. It will also give you a better chance of hitting off stump.
Also, don't be afraid to bowl the odd spell over the wicket to a left-hander. They're not used to it, and it is a good variation in itself. Looking back at my own career, each time I got Clive Lloyd out was when I bowled over the wicket.
I speak regularly with Graeme Swann about offspin in general, and lines. We talk about change of pace, and about operating to attacking lines and always spinning hard. We agree that the hard-spun, dipping ball to a right-hander must be outside the eyeline. A hard-spun delivery curves away a bit and that helps to create a gap between bat and pad.
You have to give a bit to get a bit, and mate, you do that instinctively. I have no hesitation in saying that you are the best Australian offie I've seen in nearly 30 years.
I showed Daniel Vettori and Swann the method of bowling a square spinner. It is the offspinner's equivalent of the legbreak bowler's slider, which is pushed out of the front of the hand. When you get it right, the ball looks like an offbreak but appears to have less purchase on it. Upon hitting the pitch, it skids on straight. Swann got Marcus North a few times with that delivery, and he uses it a lot; he rarely resorts to the one-finger swinger that Simmo was banging on to me about. Vettori does bowl the one-finger arm-ball, which looks impressive but rarely gets good players out. His square spinner gets him wickets.
The square spinner is so much better than the doosra for two reasons: You cannot pick the square spinner, because it looks like an offbreak but carries straight on. And for a bloke like you, who really spins and bounces your stock offbreak, a doosra would probably be superfluous as it might beat the bat of any right-hander by a mile. The field would applaud, so too the captain, but the batsman would survive because moral victories don't count in your wicket tally.
The best offie I saw was Erapalli Prasanna, the little Indian bowler. You could hear the ball buzz when he delivered it. He said that spin bowling was an invitation for the batsman to hit into the outfield. He meant dropping or dipping the ball, so you do the batsman in the air and the ball hits higher on his bat than he wants it to. When that happens, there is a potential catch.
A word of warning: take care with whom you talk offspin, because I've seen the nonsense going on at the Centre of Excellence, where spinners are wired to music. There are precious few people in Australia who really know much about offspin bowling. Keep spinning hard and follow your instincts. You will find that subtle changes of pace, allied to your hard-spun deliveries will help break the rhythm of the batsman and bring you more wickets more often. Keep going as you are: your method of bowling offbreaks is a joy to watch.
Yours in spin, and good luck
Ashley Mallett

Ashley Mallett took 132 Tests wickets in 38 Tests for Australia. An author of over 25 books, he has written biographies of Clarrie Grimmett, Doug Walters, Jeff Thomson and Ian Chappell