Growing up as a child in New South Wales, Nathan Lyon’s hate-affair with England had reached such crescendos that even when he indulged in a game of cricket with his brother in their backyard, the “team” that would lose the toss would always be England. He would be so riled up when he was bowling to his brother that all ties of fraternity evaporated and all that remained was an opposition that needed to be uprooted at all costs. Such was his venom that this mini-battle transcended into a backyard Ashes tournament, where the ‘arch-rivals’ would bear brunt to his frustration and be forced to gulp down his venom. Running parallel to an India-Pakistan match, where no words are spared and where a victory is the be-all-and-end-all, an encounter between England and Australia is as fiery and aggressive.
It then, was a dream come true of sorts for the unassuming character when he was handed his first Ashes appearance in 2013. With real cricketers on a real cricket field in a real contest. It was finally happening. The days spent cursing the opponents on the television screen and exulting in joy when they were ruffled were finally over and it was game time. An opportunity to showcase his mettle. A chance to grab with both hands.
As he picked up his 50th Test wicket against England at the Adelaide Oval, it was time to observe the impact that the burly-haired player has been having on his rivals. Even before the first ball had been bowled in the ongoing series, a barrage of words, meant to impact the visitors psychologically, had already begun and it was no surprise to see Lyon at the helm of the proceedings, threatening to end the career of talented captain Joe Root. On the field, his indulges in time-wasting tactics while batting and going up in pain have unimpressed Chris Woakes but to Mitchell Starc, that is just the character that Lyon is- up and ready for a battle on all occasions.
What works in the 30-year olds favour is the lack of attention spewed on him on the field. While the fast bowlers hog all the limelight, Lyon goes about his work in an unperturbed manner, beating the opponents with his finger-spin. Once a fast bowler has been removed off the attack, the general perception is that the batsmen relax a bit and in doing so, fall prey to the spinners.
But dedicating complacency to Lyon’s wickets would be foolery. He looks a bowler who will snap a wicket every ball, and at the Gabba, where the ball spins at an average of 2.82 degrees, he managed to spin the ball at 5.42 degrees. With 80 percent of good length deliveries, he snapped up 5 wickets in 60 overs at an economy of 2.41. In contrast, his counterpart Moeen Ali, could only take 2 wickets in the first Test match.
In the 2013/14 series held in Australia, he reaped the rewards with 19 wickets and in three innings in this series he also already picked up 10 wickets, with the dismissal of Alaistar Cook accounting for his 50th one against England. When he dismissed James Anderson in the first innings, he went past 55 wickets this calendar year, averaging 22.
However, before one is quick to blame the emergence of slower pitches in Australia for Lyon’s success, we need to know that off-spinners have generally not performed up to the mark in Australia. Graeme Swann averages 53 while Ravichandran Ashwin averages 55. The “Aussie Tormentor” Harbhajan Singh runs figures of 73 while even Muttiah Muralidharan has picked just 12 of his 800 wickets in the island. Out of the bunch, Lyon stands at an impressive 123 wickets at an average of 34. While the aforementioned bowlers focus solely on the side-spin, the Australian relies equally on flight and bounce in the air, something he learnt right from his growing up days. He is aware that he is present as a bully to left-hander Cook and with 7 dismissals in 15 matches he already has the upper-hand against the player.
However, cricket is much more than just entering the field and monotonously carrying on the task towards victory. It entails enjoyment and it involves an upsurge of emotions which makes a cricketer all the more determined to trump his rivals. Lyon’s charisma lies in not only his match-winning performances on the field but also in the ability to stretch out the Englishmen out of their wits and get under their skin; not meekly surrendering to the pressures of high-voltage games but instead relishing all the bitter challenges that come his way.