Lyon, Aussies' potent weapon

Lyon, Aussies' potent weapon

EXCEPTIONAL: With no extraordinary skills to boast about, offie Nathan Lyon has just stuck to the basics and delivered in astonishing fashion. AFP

In case you have heard “Nice Garry” chant from captain-stumper Tim Paine whenever Nathan Lyon is bowling and wondered from where that name comes from, here is an anecdote behind it.

Last year around the same time, Lyon’s heavy following gathered momentum when Matthew Wade replaced Peter Nevill as the Test team’s wicketkeeper, with Wade’s post-delivery encouragement of ‘Nice, Garry’ going viral. Since then Nathan ‘Garry’ Lyon has assumed nationwide cult status, with fans jumping the off-spinner’s bandwagon and celebrating his nickname — which is derived from the Melbourne’s Aussie rules footballer Garry Lyon.

It’s not the only nickname he has got. He is also referred to as the G.O.A.T. – the greatest of all time, after he overtook Ashley Mallett (132 wickets) and Hugh Trumble (141) as the most successful Aussie off-spinner three years ago. With 334 wickets at an average of 31.60 and a strike rate of 62.3, Lyon is also the second most successful Australian spinner behind leg-spinning great Shane Warne who is comfortably ahead with 708 wickets.

While pacers were expected to trouble India, and they have to a significant extent, not many would have envisaged a scenario in which Lyon would end up inflicting the maximum damage on them beyond Adelaide where he has generally enjoyed more success. The unassuming bowler has claimed 16 wickets in the two Tests -- next best being Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami who have 11 wickets each -- at an average of 19.43 runs and a strike rate of 46.4 per wicket.

In the first Test, he threatened to snatch victory from India’s grasp, not with just the ball but with the bat as well, and in Perth he completed the mission. On a surface where, in their unparalleled wisdom, India thought a spinner would be a waste of time, Lyon laid waste to the tourists to script Australia’s series-levelling win.

“I think we have for a couple of years now, but it does seem like he is getting better,” said Paine about Australia’s increasing confidence in Lyon. “I feel like at any stage you can throw him the ball, it doesn’t matter at what end, or who is on strike, what time of day it is, he loves it and he loves getting in the contest, even with the bat at the moment, I think his game keeps going to another level, I can feel guys growing in confidence around Nathan and that’s what you want from your senior players. He’s been fantastic for us,” he observed.        

There is nothing extraordinary about Lyon, the off-spinner. He doesn’t claim to have too many varieties up his sleeve and doesn’t try any fancy things. He sticks to his basics and that is to rely on his flight and overspin on the ball that turns and bounces on the bouncy Australian wickets, creating many bat-pad or lbw chances. And whenever there is no turn, the ball takes the outside edge either to be caught by wicketkeeper or in the slip. In the two Tests so far, out of his 15 wickets, he has dismissed 11 Indian batsmen in these fashions while M Vijay has been bowled once.

Only Pujara appeared to frustrate him in the first and second Test with his step-out-and-smother-spin method but Lyon has also accounted for Cheteshwar Pujara nine times, the most times he has dismissed an Indian batsman. He has also scalped Virat Kohli seven times, the most the Indian skipper has got out to a bowler in Tests. Pujara and Kohli are the best players of spin in the current Indian team and it’s clear, Lyon has had the better of exchanges against these acclaimed batsmen.

And Australia’s finest finger-spinner has a better record playing away from home which some Indian spinners would love to have on their side. His 155 wickets in 39 home Tests come at an average of 32.27 and a strike rate of 64.4. These figures improve when he is playing away – 179 wickets at 31.02 and a strike rate just 60 balls per wicket.      

Mallett’s belief that Lyon could easily get to 700 wickets and possibly break Warne’s record, may sound a bit far-fetched prophecy now, but Lyon has done so well in the last couple of years that Australia can’t even think of playing a four-pronged pace attack at the moment, even on a green wicket.