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Analysis

Canny Nathan Lyon does it his way in another Perth masterclass

There were several questions floating around about his methods against West Indies at Perth Stadium, but once again he got the job done in extraordinary manner

Alex Malcolm
04-Dec-2022
Nathan Lyon claimed a six-for on his way to becoming the current eighth highest wicket-taker in Test cricket  •  AFP

Nathan Lyon claimed a six-for on his way to becoming the current eighth highest wicket-taker in Test cricket  •  AFP

Spin to win in Perth? It's almost blasphemous to say it out loud. The home of some of the fastest and bounciest pitches in the world, built on the mythical Harvey River clay from Waroona in southwest Western Australia that sets like concrete in the baking WA sun.
But Perth Stadium's drop-in pitches, built in the mould of the WACA, the place that still adorns Dennis Lillee's name, have been manna from heaven for Nathan Lyon as Australia's offspinner once again spun them to victory, by six wickets against West Indies, in the fourth innings of a Perth Test match.
Lyon crept past R Ashwin to climb to eighth on the all-time Test wickets-takers list with 446. That he went past Ashwin is a fascinating talking point, and Ashwin could well reclaim higher ground on that list at some point.
But what is truly mind-blowing is Lyon's record at Perth Stadium. In three matches there he has collected 22 wickets at 18.45, striking every 42.4 deliveries. But in the fourth innings of those three matches he has spun Australia to victory each time having taken three, four and six wickets in each individual fourth innings at an average 17.69 overall, striking every 38.9 deliveries.
Throughout this six-wicket haul against West Indies, there was a chorus of voices from the various broadcast boxes questioning Lyon's methods. He was bowling too fast, too straight and from too wide on the crease for some of their liking. Former WA offspinner Bruce Yardley, who took 126 Test wickets for Australia including 19 at the WACA ground at 25.73, striking at 62.7, used to get tight to the stumps with a side-on action, flight the ball slower above the eyes and curve it away on the Fremantle doctor (Perth's southwesterly breeze) to pitch wide of off to the right-handers and spin the ball back or slide it on with the arm. Those of Yardley's generation and those who were coached by his generation cannot compute what Lyon is doing.
Lyon's six wickets came with deliveries at speeds of 90.7kph, 89, 90.2, 98, 86.2 and 87.7. Two hit off stump. The other four were on the stumps. Of those four, three asked questions of the batter's defence as they were caught on the crease trying to determine how much it would spin and bounce. Some were beaten on the inside by balls that spun, others on the outside by balls that slid on, but none had the time to adjust and play him off the pitch. The other was Roston Chase, who tried to go aerial but got nowhere near the pitch of it, because of the speed and drop, and dragged a catch to deep midwicket.
Chase recognised what Lyon was able to do having 23 balls from him during his 85-ball 55, and having bowled 37 overs of offspin on the same Perth pitch for figures of 1 for 171.
"Once I saw what he did in their first innings bowling I just tried to emulate that and bowl a bit quicker, put a little more pace on the ball along with some revs on in the second innings," Chase said.
"As the wicket deteriorated, I thought he was trying to use the rough a little bit more to put doubt in the batter's mind. But the wicket didn't really offer much spin. So I think it was kind of easy. Although he still got six wickets, I didn't think that it was that hard to really bat [against] him in terms of the ball spinning on bouncing as he usually has it throughout his career. But he's still got six wickets. So, kudos to him."
That is Lyon's skill now. He can create deception on a surface which is offering very little assistance to him. It is a skill his team-mates and particularly his captain Pat Cummins appreciates.
"I think he's got plenty of different tricks now," Cummins said. "He's obviously always had a really good offspinner but the way he moves around the crease. You saw him bowl over the wicket, around the wicket a lot.
"Felt like he could beat them on the outside of the bat or he could bring bat pad into play. He just feels like he's got a few different ways he can get a batter out and he's happy chopping and changing between them, perhaps more than early on in his career.
"One thing he's always been good at but continues to get better and better is he can bowl 25-30 quality overs in a day and there aren't many bowlers in the world that can do that."
Lyon will continue to have his doubters, those that point to his recent fourth innings against India in 2021 in Sydney and Brisbane, or 2022 against England in Sydney and against Pakistan in Karachi where he was unable to spin Australia across the line.
Like spin to win in Perth, there will be those who believe that comparisons to Ashwin are blasphemous given Ashwin's far superior Test average and strike rate. There is no debate that Ashwin's record leaves Lyon's in the dust in Asia. But in fourth innings in Australia, South Africa, England and New Zealand, Ashwin averages 34.70 and strikes at 95.9 compared to Lyon's average of 29.87 and strike rate of 64.7.
Both men are one-of-a-kind and incomparable to each other. But Lyon's performance in Perth and his record at Perth Stadium should be appreciated for what it is: simply extraordinary.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo