Match Analysis

Nathan Lyon's watching brief highlights rise of Australia seam stocks

Pat Cummins enjoys "luxury" of rotating his quicks as Scott Boland and Cameron Green continue to thrive

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
15-Jan-2022
Scott Boland was again a handful during his spectacular series  •  Getty Images

Scott Boland was again a handful during his spectacular series  •  Getty Images

Only four times in 104 Test matches has Nathan Lyon not been required to bowl in a completed innings, and two of those have come in the last three Tests.
Lyon's main contributions on the second day in Hobart were three hooked sixes while batting and a stunning catch at point, as Australia's four-pronged fast bowling cartel carved through England again.
England's inept batting aside, this innings was slightly different to the three others where Lyon has been a spectator. In Cape Town 2011, Adelaide 2020, and Melbourne 2021 Australia's quicks routed their opposition for under 100 inside 28 overs.
But here England made 188 and batted for nearly 48 overs. Admittedly it is a green seamer at Bellerive where England have played without a spinner and 22 of the 23 wickets to go down in two days have fallen to seam, with Rory Burns' run out the only outlier.
Pat Cummins was magnificent again, picking up four wickets for the 14th time since 2017, more than any other bowler in world cricket, and Mitchell Starc bagged three. Scott Boland and Cameron Green picked up one apiece but both bowled far better than their figures suggested, with Boland's Test average finally reaching double figures as luck eluded him for the first time with two catches shelled in the slips.
There was a moment when Lyon could have been used. Ollie Pope and Sam Billings cracked five boundaries in five overs off Starc and Cummins as both men flagged towards the end of their respective five-over spells, which were both their second bursts of the innings.
Lyon's stranglehold over Pope in the first two Tests would have crossed Cummins' mind. But instead, he turned Boland with eight overs under his belt already. The 32-year-old metronome from Melbourne locked in on a length again and never let up. Pope duly nicked a ball he didn't need to play at. Chris Woakes nicked Boland's next ball straight to first slip and David Warner dropped it. Usman Khawaja dropped a similarly hot chance at third slip off Woakes two overs later.
The discovery of Boland and Green has had a two-fold effect on Australia's attack. In seaming or bouncy conditions, Australia can continue to attack with two quicks at either end after the new ball. But Australia's two least-experienced quicks aren't just attacking England, they are defending at the same time, grinding scoring to a halt which is usually Lyon's role in the first innings in Australia.
Although Green's final figures of 1 for 45 were a tad expensive, the control of length that he and Boland demonstrated was exceptional. According to ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data, the pair bowled 48 balls on a good length at an economy rate of 1.62. No other bowler in the game has an economy rate under 2.4 from good-length balls. Cummins took four wickets off good length balls but his economy rate was 4.12 while Starc only bowled 15 good length balls and conceded 20 runs (or 8 runs per over).
Boland and Green also beat the bat relentlessly as they have all series and produced three nicks although only one was held. Cummins can't believe his luck as a captain having four high-class quicks to rotate through on a daily basis.
"I just felt like, especially in cool conditions, we could just have two quicks operating, then just literally switch both ends and the next two quicks operate, it's just a real luxury at the moment," Cummins said. "Everyone's bowling so well. Nathan Lyon, I'm sure would have done a great job. He's been fantastic this series and to not even need him it's a sign that we're in a really good place. Again, I think everyone bowled around between 10 and 15 overs. So hopefully we've got some fresh legs going to the second innings as well. Scott has been obviously fantastic but Greeny as an allrounder, he's a genuine fourth quick, keeps a tight, takes big wickets."
In the grand scheme of things, it gives Australia extraordinary depth. Josh Hazlewood has only played one Test this series while Jhye Richardson took five wickets in the fourth innings in Adelaide and is running the drinks in Hobart despite being fully fit.
Both Cummins and Starc have stressed throughout the summer that the quick bowlers don't want to be rested or rotated. But the emergence of Boland and Richardson and Starc's finish to the series might finally give the selectors the ammunition to make such a brave call that they didn't against India last summer.
As well as Starc has bowled in this Ashes series, taking 18 wickets and leading Australia's attack at times, he has the second-highest average and second highest strike-rate of Australia's seven quicks used and he is the only one to play all five games.
It is worth noting his diminishing returns in long series across his career. He averages under 25 in the first two Tests of any series and 30.47 in the third. But that drops away to 41 in fourth Tests and fifth Tests. His strike-rate drops to 67.8 and 74 in fourth and fifth Tests as well. He picked up three wickets in Hobart but two were tailenders and he wasn't as menacing as he usually is in pink-ball games. Given he bowls at high-pace and maximum effort all the time there is certainly a case for him to be managed differently across long Test series moving forward, despite his want to play as much as possible.
The same can apply to all of the quicks, especially since the only one to play in the IPL and the T20 World Cup prior to the Ashes, Hazlewood, broke down with a side strain in the first Test.
Boland only added to his already tremendous value by producing an incredible nightwatchman effort in brutal batting conditions, after Australia slumped to 3 for 33. He faced 25 balls and was unbeaten copping blows on the hands and body as he shielded Steven Smith from the strike.
Lyon, so often the man tasked for such a difficult assignment, was once again a spectator. For the first time in a long time, Australia are building options across the board.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo