With the most intense Test battle – The Ashes, being just a few weeks away, the anticipation for the same is on a high. Australia are yet to announce their squad while England have named their army for the big battle. With the series being played Down Under, Australia certainly have an upper-hand. The world is bracing itself for the greatest Test rivalry. The conditions in Australia favour seam bowling, but one can expect spin to play a key role also as the game progresses. Australia’s most successful off-spinner, who has also been the leader of spin attack, will be the man to watch out and has a crucial role to play in the series.
Australia have often spoken about their plans to play four seamers and go all guns blazing, but Lyon will certainly get a spot in the playing XI. The likes of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins render bowling a joy to behold and when it comes to spin, Lyon is in a similar league. The pace attack will always pose a threat for the English line-up and Lyon will just add more fire and stability to it.
Lyon has developed into a leader and has done well in his recent outings. He wreaked havoc in Bangladesh, picking 22 wickets in two games while he was equally brilliant in India as well. He has developed tremendous control over the red cherry, which was clearly visible in Bangladesh and India. Saying that Lyon bowled intelligently in Bangladesh would be an understatement, such had been the impact of Nathan – the Lyon.
Lyon is an orthodox off-spinner, who banks on flight, drift, subtle lengths and change in pace. One can expect Lyon to get decent drift in Australia and further make the most of it. Lyon is not someone, who could intimidate a batsman with mystery balls. In fact, he hardly has one. He bowls conventional off-spin, but gets the job done. He may not excite one while putting the hard yards, but knows the art of picking wickets.
One shouldn’t forget, England does have a lot of left-handed batsmen in the line-up and ball turning away from them will always create trouble. The presence of a lot of left-handed batsmen will be tempting for an off-spinner of Lyon’s calibre. The fact that, Lyon has been equally effective against right-handed and left-handed batsmen makes him a force to be reckoned with. Lyon has 184 right-handers wickets at 27.52 and 85 left-handed scalps at 29.35. Also, a lot of English batsmen does not have the experience of playing a Test match in Australia, which will only give Australian bowlers an edge.
In his entire career spanning of 69 Tests, Lyon has picked 269 wickets at 31.83, but his recent rise in Test cricket has been irresistible. He already has 46 scalps this year at a staggering average of 21.95. Lyon also has a healthy record against England, picking 44 wickets in 13 games at 29.84.
Lyon is a fighter and doesn’t know how to quit. He was dropped twice from the side in 2013, but drilled his way back into the side only to remain a regular outfit. Almost a year ago, Lyon’s place in the side was slightly dicey. But, he is now seventh on the loss of leading wicket-takers for Australia, with Shane Warne being the only spinner above him.
Australian surfaces are hard and bouncy, which hardly provides any help to finger spinners. Not many finger spinners have achieved success Down Under and often struggled with the ball. Sri Lankan legend Muttiah Muralitharan averages 75.4 while Graeme Swann, Ravichandran Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh average 52.6, 54.71 and 73.2 respectively. In this context, Lyon’s average of just over 34 at home is good to have for a finger spinner.
Lyon will have an amazing battle within the battle against Moeen Ali. Both are off-spinners and most importantly, the key spinners for their sides. Their success will provide an impetus to the side and will be interesting to see, which one stands out.
At home, Australia have rarely played a second spinner alongside Lyon; he has been their specialist spinner and has got the job done. He may leak runs at times, but Australia are rarely bothered about that and want him to chip wickets, which he does. He may have a higher average, but has an amazing strike rate. In the recent times, Lyon’s effectiveness with the ball has scaled newer heights. As per an article in Huffington Post, Australian legend and leading wicket-taker Shane Warne’s strike-rate is 57.4 while Lyon’s strike rate has been 60.08 so far. But since 2015, Lyon’s strike has bettered to 55.3, which is a testament to his rise.
Lyon has also been a workhorse, bowling marathon spells, but understands his game really well and backs his strength. In the Ashes, Lyon may not be the one winning games for Australia, but one can expect him to play his role to perfection and aid the seam bowlers. From a groundsman to Australia’s most successful off-spinner, Lyon’s journey has been a mesmerising one. And one can expect him to continue climbing the ladder in this series as well. His career graph has been on a hike and will be interesting to see if he continues his tremendous form at home as well.