Nathan Lyon is already in rarified air as a Test cricketer. But he's close to joining an even more exclusive club.
With six Tests over the next two months there is every chance that he will claim the 18 wickets he needs to reach 500 - a milestone only achieved by seven bowlers in the history of the game.
Lyon is not someone who likes focusing on personal milestones during a playing career, but he is able to acknowledge the significance of the landmark that is within his grasp during the upcoming Ashes series. His 400th wicket also came against England, during the 2021-22 series, when he had Dawid Malan taken at silly point on the fourth day at the Gabba.
"Yeah, I don't like talking about myself in that light, but it is pretty amazing when you sit back and look at the names who have been able to take 500 Test wickets," he said before flying to the UK. "I know I've been very fortunate and I'm grateful for my journey so far. It has been amazing, and if I'm able to tick that little box over the Ashes, it would be very special.
"If I start looking at what I've been able to achieve, the Tests and the series that we've won, I'll feel like the end can sneak up on you quite quickly. I still feel I've got a lot of cricket left in me and I know personally, I want to tick off some big goals in the many years to come. I'll definitely look back at it when I do call stumps, but that's not for a while yet."
Lyon, who made his Test debut in 2011 and claimed a wicket with his first delivery, now embarks on a two-month tour of the UK with two major prizes up for grabs: the World Test Championship and the Ashes, which Australia have not won in England since 2001.
Lyon's key role in Australia's WTC final
Facing India at The Oval on June 7 is the first matter of business for Australia before thinking about the Ashes, even though that series begins just four days after the Oval match ends. The WTC has been much more of a singular focus for the Australians this time after they missed the inaugural final due to over-rate penalties.
"This is my World Cup final," Lyon said. "Being part of the 2019 [ODI] World Cup, where we weren't good enough against England in the semi-final, it did feel the World Cup dream probably slipped away."
Lyon was a central figure in Australia's campaign to secure their spot in this year's WTC final. In this two-year cycle he claimed 83 wickets in 19 Tests at 26.97, 15 wickets more than the second most prolific bowler in this period, James Anderson. While history suggested Australia would dominate at home, they were handed a tough overseas draw with visits to Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India.
Though only the tour of Pakistan produced a series win - and a very significant one at that - crucially Australia picked up three Test victories in those series, clinching their place in the final with the win in Indore where Lyon claimed 8 for 64. That followed five-wicket hauls in the other two successes: 5 for 83 in Lahore in a match that went to the final hour of the final day and 5 for 90 in Galle.
"I'm pretty proud of the whole squad - players and coaches - the mentality of everyone, the way we played our brand of cricket, the different challenges of playing in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India and at home," Lyon said. "Feel like the World Test Championship final is a reward for our efforts over the last 24 months, but there's a lot to play for now. We really need to make sure we go on with it and finish the job that we set out to do.
"To go over to each country and play my role and be able to help contribute to a few wins, it's been amazing, but it's also been a massive learning curve for me and all our squad. Not one [performance] stands out - they are all equal in their own right. Saying that, it means nothing now. I need to make sure I'm playing my role [in the final]."
Lyon's looming century
The proximity of the WTC final to the Ashes has made for a curious build-up. The match against India deserves its own billing but the prospect of the five contests that follow it is mouth-watering given the resurgence in England's Test cricket over the last 12 months.
Lyon, who has recently launched an online platform called GOATD, which will provide members exclusive behind-the-scenes access to his tour, is on his fourth Ashes trip.
"Feel like every Ashes is getting bigger," he said. "England have been talking about the Ashes for a long time but for us we are purely focused on the WTC final and feel like we've got to be. We know we are there for the long haul and it will be a big challenge with what England throw at us, but right now the focus is purely on India."
Lyon's first Ashes trip, in 2013, can be seen as a key moment in his career. He was omitted for the first two Tests, when Ashton Agar was preferred - Agar famously left a bigger impression with the bat by making 98 at No. 11 on debut. Lyon returned at Old Trafford. He has not missed a Test match since, currently sitting on 97 in a row.
"It's something that I'm pretty proud about, having played 97 consecutive Tests. To hopefully crack 100 consecutive games would be an extremely proud moment, but let's try to play 98 first," he said.
This will be the earliest Ashes series in the UK since 1997 and it will be wrapped up before August - a month where in recent times such series have just been getting going. Lyon had a brief spell with Worcestershire in 2017, which gave him a taste of bowling in early-season English conditions, but he does not think much will have to change.
"I've been watching a fair amount of county cricket and talking to the likes of Sean Abbott [at Surrey] and getting some intel on the surfaces," he said. "Stokesy has come out and said they want hard, fast, flat wickets, so that's what we are expecting."
While India come first, what of the prospect of being taken on by England's Bazballers and their batters trying to put him into the stands? "Won't be the first it's happened to me," Lyon said. "I have the record of most Test sixes in history so a couple won't matter to me."
The shadow of Headingley 2019
Australia retained the Ashes in 2019 under Tim Paine's captaincy, so that was certainly a success, but it was also a missed opportunity to come away series winners: England levelled the series at The Oval after, of course, the Stokes-inspired Miracle at Headingley.
Enough time has elapsed that Lyon is philosophical at looking back at his impending return to that ground; this year's series features the same venues in the same order.
"I know 99% of people probably think the run-out [that Lyon failed to effect during England's last-wicket partnership in their successful chase] cost us everything, but we should have won that game well and truly before taking it so deep," he said. "But Ben Stokes is going to go down as one of England's greatest. Definitely feels like we missed a trick but to go over there and retain the Ashes was extremely special.
"I'm not scared of the ground, I'm looking forward to being back at Headingley. Was probably one of the best Test matches I've ever been a part of. I'm expecting the crowd to let me know, but it's not the first mistake I've ever made and it won't be the last."
Future bright, but Lyon has no plans to leave
Unlike in 2019, Lyon has a fellow spinner alongside him in the Test squad. Todd Murphy has been one of the breakout stars in the Australian game over the last 12 months and claimed 14 wickets on his maiden Test tour, in India, including a seven-wicket haul on debut in Nagpur.
Australia's schedule over the next couple of years - they do not tour the subcontinent for Tests until they go to Sri Lanka in early 2025 - means that, barring injury to Lyon, and the end of his long unbeaten Test run, Murphy is likely to have to wait for his next opportunity - unless an SCG Test calls for two spinners.
But his emergence has gone a long way to answering the question of who replaces Lyon when the time comes. Along with Matt Kuhnemann's swift elevation to Test cricket in India, the presence of Mitchell Swepson, the emergence of Corey Rocchiccioli at Western Australia, and hopefully a return for legspinner Tanveer Sangha from injury next season make for a sense that the spin stocks are in a healthy place.
"Think the depth is growing very fast," Lyon said. "[Matt and Mitch] have done exceptionally well in their own right and have played a role in winning games overseas. Hopefully I've been able to help the guys out here and there but I do feel the depth of Australia's spin stocks has improved out of sight and it will be a good space for the next decade or so."
Lyon has no plans on vacating his position anytime soon. "The hunger and drive to get better is still there, and I still feel like I have a lot to offer Australia. I've never conquered this game of cricket and never will - feel like I can keep learning and keep getting better. Until that day comes when I can't get any better or the hunger dries. That's when I call stumps."