By Bharath Ramaraj
Traditional off-spinners without a doosra relying on skills like flight, guile and subtle changes of pace are not looked upon kindly by modern day national selectors. However, Nathan Lyon of Australia, using those supposedly prosaic skills, has climbed up the ladder to gradually become Australia’s go-to man in the spin department. In fact, he deserves a pat or two on the back for making an impression in a pace dominated bowling line-up of Australia.
When Lyon made his Test debut against New Zealand at the Gabba in 2010-11, just like Peter Taylor in the late 1980s, he was an unknown quantity. He was picked from the obscurity of being one among the Adelaide ground staff in 2010 to donning the Australian Test cap. His rise to the top is truly a rags to riches story.
Now, Lyon is no Graeme Swann to have that freakish ability to generate mind blowing revolutions on the ball. But just like any other fine spinner, he has a stock delivery in the traditional Australian mould of bowling outside the off-stump and teasing the batsmen to drive through covers. He also spins it hard which is such a key factor for any off-spinner to succeed.
In the just concluded Ashes 2013-14 series against England, on the face of it, the five-for he took at MCG in the fourth Test may not look great, as it can be argued that English batsmen gifted him wickets on a platter. But if we scratch the surface, underneath, one can notice that just like an enchantress, he enticed them to the deadly trap by inviting them to play shots. The best spinners in the game are always prepared to get hit to take wickets. Even in the series in England when they recalled him after the experiment with Ashton Agar flopped miserably, he held his own. He also showed versatility by bowling from around the wicket and trouble Kevin Pietersen with a strong on-side field in that series. In particular, at Chester le Street in the third Test, he bowled with remarkable control and earned every one of his seven wickets in the game.
Undoubtedly, he plays a key role in Australia’s pace dominated bowling line-up. If the pacers were the catalyst for England’s demise, then Lyon has gone about doing a holding job in a fine fashion. The pacers can’t bowl forever and they need some rest in between. This is where a spinner’s role becomes doubly important. A spinner also has to look like taking wickets and Lyon washed away that challenge too with aplomb. Remember, along with Peter Siddle, he was Australia’s top wicket-taker in the calendar year of 2013. He snared 42 wickets last year.
Since the retirement of Shane Warne, Australia have searched nook and cranny of their domestic cricket for a fine spinner with no real success. But in Nathan Lyon, they may have just found a spinner who bowls with equanimity and a calm head on his shoulders and is prepared to get hit for a few sixes from the willowy wielders in order to tempt them to their doomsday. He has cemented his place as Australia’s lead spinner and from their perspective, he will continue to stick to his strengths and pen an indelible mark in the Test arena.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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