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Lyon reaps reward from India's suffocation

Nathan Lyon could see the correlation between his success and the suffocating consistency of the Australian bowling attack, which gave India only 18 boundaries

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
Alongside Nathan Lyon's extraordinary 8 for 50, another figure stood out on a day when Australia took a giant leap towards retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. It was 18 - the number of boundaries struck by India's batsmen in their first innings or, more pointedly, the number Australia restricted them to striking.
Lyon could certainly see the correlation between his success and the suffocating consistency of the Australian bowling attack, from Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood with the new ball to left-arm spinner Steve O'Keefe at the other end, all supported by the nifty fields of the captain Steven Smith.
With typical modesty, Lyon summed up his snaffling of the best figures ever by a visiting bowler in India: "I was the lucky one today."
In explaining how he had learned to prosper in Asia, following less productive visits to India, the UAE and Sri Lanka last year, Lyon pointed to the need to bowl as tightly as possible, landing ball after ball in teasing areas and gaining variation from the pitch. His blueprint came in part from conversations with Rangana Herath at the end of the Sri Lanka series, and was solidified in his mind during one-on-one sessions with John Davison and Darren Berry during the Big Bash League in January.
"I don't know if they're going to spin or go straight, so if I don't know neither does the batter really," Lyon said of a day where he divided his wickets almost exactly between balls that turned and others that did not. "I'm about doing the basics really well and just landing on the same spot, that's a big one for me, if I keep doing that I'm going to be able to create chances.
"That's what you've got to do over here, on the subcontinent, is be patient and hit the same spot over and over and hopefully things will start to happen. I think that's where Steve O'Keefe and myself have been working really well together, I'm able to get a decent amount of turn and SOK's able to do both. He's quite talented in the way he releases the ball, go underneath it a little bit and hit those front pads. That's where I think we're working really well together.
"Steve and the others spinners all said we have to stay patient and build balls. If you look at Rangana Herath, one of the best spinners in the world, what does he do well? He hits the same spot over and over. He said to me after the [Sri Lanka] series I don't know if they're going to spin either. So if I'm working off the same plan Rangana's working off, he's going alright, and hopefully we'll be able to keep doing it as an Australian team."
Bengaluru's pitch differed from Pune in that it offered greater bounce, and also variation by the patchwork of cracks unveiled on the opening day. In keeping with their mantra of adaptability, Lyon and O'Keefe conferred early in the day to realise there would be as much gained from over spin as side spin, something demonstrated by the skidder that fooled Virat Kohli, but also the turn and bounce O'Keefe gained for his lone but vital wicket - the fluent Karun Nair stumped by Matthew Wade.
"We had to assess the conditions quickly and adapt, and Steve O'Keefe and I had a conversation out there and saw there were a couple really jumping up," Lyon said. "So I looked at my bowling to see if I could put some over spin on it and get some balls to jump, and to get some good bounce out there was pleasing. Saying that, there's a second innings so we need to keep working hard and take another 10 wickets."
As for the wicket of Kohli, snared cheaply now for the third innings in a row, Lyon cribbed from the words of Dale Steyn last summer ahead of South Africa's victory over Smith's men: cutting off the head of the snake.
"Virat's one of the best batters in the world I've ever come across, so to be able to take his wicket today was exceptional. But we know this is a massive series and a long series. He's a world-class batter so we expect him to bounce back. He's the head of the snake, if you want to put it in Dale Steyn's terms, if you can take that then hopefully the body will fall away is what Dale said.
"We came over here to compete hard against India and we're doing that well at the moment. But cricket's a funny game, if I come out and say we're going to keep bowling them out for under 150 it's going to bite me in the backside real quick. We've got the belief in the team, the feeling in that change room is unbelievable at the moment. So if we can keep doing that and have really good days of cricket for Australia, we're heading in the right direction."
Lyon had struggled for wickets at the start of the Australian summer, when not for the first time his place in the Test team was openly questioned. But as Bengaluru so amply demonstrated, Lyon's is a considerable talent, now elevated further by a commanding performance in the homeland of spin bowling.
"I don't need to prove to anyone," he said. "I've proved to myself I can compete at this level and I want to keep doing it for Australia. This is where my passion lies and I just want to keep doing what I can for Australia."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig