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Nathan Lyon’s rise has taken care of Australia’s spin bowling conundrum

Nathan Lyon © Getty Images
Nathan Lyon has turned out to be a consistent performer for Australia in Tests © Getty Images

By Sudatta Mukherjee

In January 2007, three legends of Australian cricket bid goodbye to international cricket forever — Justin Langer, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. Even though Langer’s and McGrath’s absence were felt, there were players in the squad which came up to fill their boots. However, Warne’s departure left a void in the Australian spin department. Since Warne’s retirement, in the last seven years, Australia have used almost 10 spinners in the 25 Test series (including the ongoing series against South Africa) they have played.

When Warne played, he was accompanied by Stuart MacGill quite often and many people thought he would put on the spin spearhead’s hat after Warne’s departure. However, injuries kept him away and he surprised everyone by announcing retirement mid-series.

The other option was the Chinaman-bowler Brad Hogg. However, Hogg was more successful in the short formats of the game than Tests. In the seven Tests that he played, Hogg’s bowling average was 54.88 compared to his One-Day Internationals’ (ODIs) 26.84. After Warne’s retirement, while Hogg played only in three Test matches against India, picking up eight wickets at an average of 60.12, MacGill featured in four Tests, picking up 10 wickets at an average of 65.10.

Australia went on to use Jason Krejza, Cameron White, Nathan Hauritz, Bryce McGain, etc. More recently, the selectors even used Xavier Doherty, Ashton Agar and Glenn Maxwell, hoping that one of them would really take care of Australia’s spin bowling.

In the September of 2011, a lanky version of Jason Statham had struck into the international Test scene, surprising everyone by picking up a wicket with his first ball in Test. The then 23-year-old picked up five wickets in the first innings of the match. Nathan Lyon, the person concerned, produced the best bowling figures by an Australian in the series and second best by any bowler in the series. Since then he has played 31 Tests for Australia.

Lyon has taken some time to cement his place in the team. It would be an injustice to expect Lyon to reach the lofty heights of Warne: on the other hand, he has possibly done more than the selectors had expected of him initially.

In the Ashes 2013-14, for example, he picked up 19 wickets from five Tests and had gone almost unnoticed amidst Mitchell Johnson’s heroics. In the ongoing Test match against South Africa, he picked up six wickets.

Lyon has been touted as the next big Australian off-spinner and the day isn’t far away when he crosses Hugh Trumble’s record of 141 wickets. Lyon is just 32 Tests old and has a long way to go. He is 26 and should have at least a decade’s worth of cricket left in him (unless injuries or selectors play decide to intervene).

At this point, Australian selectors need to give him continuous matches to bring out the best out of him. The fact that he has been able to pick up six wickets in the second Test against South Africa at Port Elizabeth, shows how important he is to Michael Clarke.

Now that Lyon has finally shaped up well as the first choice-spinner after a good Ashes series and even in the ongoing Test series, the Australian selectors should concentrate on building few youngsters. The Australian selectors can concentrate on training someone like Ashton Agar or Maxwell to come good when Australia needs them.

On a completely different note, it should be remembered that when Michael Hussey had retired, he had passed on the legacy of the iconic Under the Southern Cross I Stand to Lyon that had been something allowed to only the greats or future greats: Rodney Marsh, Allan Border, David Boon, Ian Healy, Ricky Ponting, Hussey…

Will Lyon be up there someday? Only time can tell.

(Sudatta Mukherjee is a reporter with CricketCountry. Other than writing on cricket, she spends penning random thoughts on her blog and produces weekly posts on new food joints at Whopping Weekends. She played Table Tennis for University of Calcutta. When she is not writing, you will catch her at a movie theatre or watching some English serial on her laptop. Her Twitter id is @blackrosegal)

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