Nathan Lyon@500: perfecting a gentle art in the world of pace and bounce
With quality spinners being at a premium in his country, Cricket Australia chose to preserve Lyon primarily as a Test bowler
It’s an awesome G-8 in the world of Test cricket that Nathan Lyon became a part of at Perth on Sunday, 17 December. Muttiah Muralitharan, the late Shane Warne, James Anderson, Anil Kumble, Stuart Board, Glenn McGrath, and Courtney Walsh are now joined by the Australian off-spinner with 500-plus Test wickets.
The roll of honour is simply awe-inspiring and makes one realise that the 36-year-old, who wears the dyed-in-the-wool Aussie spirit on his sleeves, does not often get the recognition he deserves. He has often been loosely referred to as the best in his trade over the last decade or so, but Lyon has no qualms about admitting that he has learned a lot from the other decorated practitioner in his trade, India's Ravichandran Ashwin.
"I don't think it’s probably hit me yet," said Lyon after his team saw off Pakistan by 360 runs in the first of a three-match series. ‘’But there’s obviously been a lot of hard work going into the journey and I’ve had a lot more bad days and good days, but to be out there in the middle, with a special group of people, it’s pretty special to be able to take 500 in my first Test back,’’ added Lyon, who has often ploughed a lonely furrow through his career.
A closer study of his figures will reveal that the man from New South Wales has taken more Tests (123) than the other three spinners in the elite club, but then to be fair, the wickets Down Under are the toughest for spinners to bowl on, unless one has the variety of Warne, who also never had the fortune of bowling in tandem with a quality spinner in Tests from the other end — like a Harbhajan Singh with a Kumble or a Ravindra Jadeja with Ashwin. Still, his nagging line and confidence in his flight and deception yielded almost half his 243 wickets at home, which translate into 24.04 per cent of the wickets Australia captured during these home Tests.
With quality spinners being at a premium in his country, Cricket Australia chose to preserve Lyon primarily as a Test bowler, answering erstwhile skipper Michael Clarke’s calls to bowl long and tiring spells in the company of pacemen Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle. It was only around 2018-19 that the team management considered him for white ball cricket, where he and leg spinner Adam Zampa struck up a potent combination.
The finest compliment possibly came from Warne when he said: ‘’Nathan Lyon works very hard on his bowling. He’s the best off-spinner Australia has ever produced.’’ There won’t be many disputing that, as Lyon enjoys a fine record against some of the greatest players of spin bowling, including the mighty Virat Kohli, whom he has dismissed seven times along with swing king James Anderson.
Incidentally, Lyon could have savoured the 500-wicket landmark during the Ashes series this summer itself, but for his first ever injury in his 12-year career. He was on 496 wickets during the second Test at Lord’s when a serious right calf injury sidelined him for nearly six months until he came back in the Pakistan series at home.
When he eventually got to it in the second innings after winning an LBW review against Faheem Ashraf, it completed a gritty journey which began at Galle in 2011 with the wicket of Sri Lankan great Kumar Sangakkara during a five-wicket haul on debut.
And Lyon is nowhere near being done yet!
The elite 500-plus club in Tests
Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka) 800 wickets
Shane Warne (Australia) 708 wickets
James Anderson (England) 690 wickets
Anil Kumble (India) 619 wickets
Stuart Broad (England) 604 wickets
Glenn McGrath (Australia) 563 wickets
Courtney Walsh (West Indies) 519 wickets
Nathan Lyon (Australia) 501 wickets