“Lyon can’t and should not make it to the World Cup squad just because of his good economy rate. His poor returns this year demand thorough scrutiny and the two alternatives suggested above need to be considered”
Modern-day cricket has become an arena of specialists. This statement will not be too wrong considering the different strategies adopted by teams in different formats of the game. That batsman is not fit for shorter formats, he fits only into the Test scheme. That player doesn’t have the game of highest order required at the Test level. Some are just slam-bang players who are considered outsiders if they play any other format besides T20. Talks like these are the bread and butter of modern cricketing discussions.
These just can’t be cast aside as fruitless talks, they reflect the strategies of teams to excel in every format of the game and some players, who are successful in one format of the game, may fall short of the credentials required to be a specialist in another format of the game resulting in them being branded as format-specific players. Something similar is the case of Nathan Lyon, Australia’s best Test spinner since the retirement of legendary Shane Warne at the start of 2007.
As far as the Test cricket is concerned, there is no denying the fact that Lyon commands a place among the greats of the game but favours start reversing as we start looking at his utility in the shorter formats of the game. Despite making his ODI debut way back in March 2012, Lyon has so far featured in just 21 matches with six such appearances coming this year only. What’s the reason for such sporadic ODI appearances when he was performing consistently well in Tests all these years?
The answer lies in his below average returns with the ball. Now, one would look at his economy rate of 4.78 runs per over and will argue about nothing being wrong with his returns. But despite boasting a very miserly economy rate, Lyon falls short on the most important metric for the scaling of bowlers i.e. the number of wickets returned from the games played. A total of 22 wickets at an average of 42.82 is what he has managed so far with his guiles and tricks in the ODI circuit. Now, if one argues that his past should not affect his present case, let’s take a look at his numbers in ODIs this year.
In six games played this year, Lyon has been able to scalp just 4 wickets with his bowling average further sliding down to a mediocre 70 runs per wicket. Clearly, he is falling behind on the most important bowling metric nowadays and a case for him not being present on the flight to London is gaining ground quickly. This case is not just a result of his diminishing numbers, but a result of a comparative analysis of the performance of bowlers on English pitches.
Since the last World Cup in 2015, the highest wicket-taking spinner in English conditions is Adil Rashid with a tally of 69 wickets from 39 games at an average of 28.08. But mind you that Rashid bowls leg spin – a trade in very high demand these days and clearly not the forte of Lyon. Now, if we talk about the best bowling average among the bowlers bowling in at least 3 games in the said period, we will find Kuldeep Yadav at the helm with a bowling average of 16.44 for his 9 wickets from 3 games. But again, he is a left-arm leg-spinner. So, where do the off-spinners stand?
Taking the number of wickets into account, Moeen Ali tops the list among the off-spinners with a tally of 29 wickets which have come at a whopping average of more than 43 runs apiece. Average-wise, even part-timers like Kedar Jadhav, Sabbir Rahman, Dhanuska Gunathilaka and Glenn Maxwell average better than Moeen’s 43.06 runs per wicket. But all of the aforementioned players, including Moeen, bring a valuable batting skill to the table, something which is seriously lacking in Lyon as he, at best, can be the best tail-end batsman in the world but those players are a real deal when it comes to wielding the willow.
Now, the question arises if not Lyon then who? The answer to this question lies in the scintillating win Australia recorded over the Indians recently. They can bring Ashton Turner in his place who showed that he posses the cool head required to finish off a game when he helped Australia chase down India’s mammoth 359-run target. Turner also bowls some handy off-breaks which along with Glenn Maxwell’s off-spin and Marcus Stoinis’ medium pace should be enough for the fifth bowler’s duties for Australia.
Australia can also consider bringing in an extra pace bowler in his place because Australian pacers have the second-best bowling average of 34.16 in English conditions since the last World Cup. Only Pakistani pacers have fared better with a bowling average of 30.66 whereas Australian spinners have coped a lot of beating as they have given away nearly 50 runs for each of their 16 wickets on English soil in the said period.
Lyon can’t and should not make it to the World Cup squad just because of his good economy rate. His poor returns this year demand thorough scrutiny and the two alternatives suggested above need to be considered. Lyon, undoubtedly, is a red-ball great but unfortunately, his stars aren’t shining bright enough to take him to the mega-extravaganza of white-ball cricketing action.