PARTAB RAMCHAND | 26 DECEMBER, 2018
A classical off spinner
Nathan Lyon symbolizes the traditional adage associated with cricket that spinners, like good wine, get better with age.
In the last few years he has taken wickets by the bucketful and this has resulted in the off spinner currently being fourth in the list of Aussie wicket takers behind Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Dennis Lillee. And with 334 wickets against his name it is only a matter of time before he goes past Lillee (355) to third place.
The next mark McGrath’s 563 might be a bit too steep even for a bowler as skilful as Lyon but as it is he has accomplished a phenomenal feat to be the second most successful spin bowler for a country which has a tradition in producing some of the finest pace bowlers in the game’s history.
In fact out of top 20 wicket takers for Australia, only five are spinners and except for Lyon all of them are leg spinners – Warne, Richie Benaud, Clarrie Grimmett and Stuart MacGill.
This alone is enough to give Lyon an honoured place in Australian cricket history But more than the figures it is the art and craft associated with his bowling that has attracted attention. He is a classical off spinner and there have not been many of late England’s Graeme Swann probably being the last of the breed before Lyon emerged on the scene.
He belongs to the traditional school where bowlers do not try out numerous variations (like for example Ravi Ashwin) but concentrate on the basics of line and length. Their variations revolve around flight and turn and a subtle change of pace. These bowlers are thinkers who try and fathom the batsmen’s weakness and then probe them incessantly.
With their accuracy and the ability to penetrate even the tightest defensive technique they have the batsman in two minds – and finally in no frame of mind at all! They are the kind of bowlers who are willing to buy their wickets who believe in slowly luring the batsmen to their doom by tempting him to play an indiscreet shot. Erapalli Prasanna was one such bowler and there are times when Lyon brings back memories of the great Indian off spinner.
That he is a classical bowler is also borne out by the fact that he is a Test specialist. While he has played in 82 Tests, he has figured in only 15 ODIs and two T-20 internationals.
Lyon started his Test career in 2011 with a bang getting a wicket off the first ball he sent down in Test cricket – the priceless one of Kumar Sangakkara. Since then he has had his ups and downs. He has been dropped quite unfairly but has taken all this in his stride and has put in a lot of hard work to become the master bowler that he is today.
In the ongoing Test series he has proved too good for the Indian batsmen, reputedly the best players of spin bowling in the world. Pitching on an inconvenient length he has had the batsmen bemused, beaten and bowled. In addition he has had them caught in the traditional manner – at short leg – or at slip with the straighter one. Indeed Lyon’s bag of tricks is quite unfathomable.
In the post Warne period there has been a lot of churning as far as the spin bowler’s slot in the Australian side was concerned. A number of bowlers were tried out without much success.
By his mesmeric bowling Lyon has established himself as the No 1 spin bowler in the post Warne phase. What is particularly noteworthy is the fact that he has been successful wherever he has played. As his bowling in the current Test series has underlined he is at the peak of his powers and interestingly enough he heads both the batting and bowling averages at the moment.
At 31 he gives every indication of being Australia’s premier spinner for a few more years.