Jumping to his left, midway through his follow-through, Lyon flew to his right to take what may be the catch of the series © Getty Images
Jumping to his left, midway through his follow-through, Lyon flew to his right to take what may be the catch of the series © Getty Images

Nathan Lyon has an arousing name for the punsters to wordplay with. There are one too many lion-referred idioms for them to get high on. Same is the case for the cricket pedants. Lyon does not have an array of variations in his den, but seldom do his one-dimensional off-spinners put your senses off the rails. There is something frantic about his bowling. And then, there always is the Nice, Garry! phenomenon. He is a crowd favourite. His every ball bowled, defended or smashed, and fielded is madly cheered.

Lyon’s roar silences England in The Ashes 2017-18

Lyon has taken 11 wickets in this series at 22.7, of which ten are left-handers. Yes, being an off-spinner helps him cut the ball away from left-handers and induce an edge. If the ball luckily holds its line or spins lesser than the batsman had anticipated, it either traps them LBW or dismembers their defence.

Lyon dismissed Moeen in all 4 innings: twice lbw, once stumped and caught and bowled. He dismissed Cook twice: lbw and caught. Stoneman and Malan were caught in the slips. Anderson was pinned down leg before. Broad was stumped. The solitary wicket of a right-hander was that of Chris Woakes: he was clean-bowled.

The Gabba

The first time Lyon dismissed an Englishman in the series was with the help of his fielding skills. Lyon ran towards extra cover and inflicted a direct throw, running out Vince for 53. It broke England’s momentum.

After Australia wrapped up Root, Malan and Moeen built a strong partnership. Smith brought Lyon in the vicinity of breakthrough, and the off-spinner caught Moeen in the maze. Lyon, for the second time in the innings, lifted Australia from ruins.

Lyon upped the ante in the second innings. He dismissed Stoneman when he looked set for another half-century. In the same spell, Lyon got the better of Malan. From 62 for 2, England were stamped down to 74 for 4.

Moeen used the long handle. He had to. He swept Lyon for two staggering boundaries. But, Lyon’s roar silenced him again; he went for a well-compiled 40. Lyon finished the match with 5 vital wickets, at junctures when Australia were desperate for wickets.

Adelaide Oval

The series of breakthroughs continued. Cook was batting on 37, having already played over 80 deliveries. The Cook-like steady innings was en route to destroy Australia. In came Lyon and forced Cook to poke, with Smith employed at first slip.

As has been the case in the series, Moeen found his feet early into the innings. Smith sensed trouble, engineering Lyon into the attack. This time, however, it was a picture-perfect moment. Jumping to his left, midway through his follow-through, Lyon flew to his right to take what may be the catch of the series. Lyon’s spin and athleticism both stimulated England’s downfall. He then terminated Broad and Anderson, finishing with a four-for, his 10th in the format.

In the second innings, he accounted for two crucial wickets: Cook and Moeen.

Lyon, the bait

Steven Smith does not stretch Lyon’s spells. He does not have to, especially at home. With a three-pacer attack on bouncy tracks, Lyon is used as a bait: he does not further get to bowl if he does not take wickets. That way, he does not get to run through sides either. By the time the ball gets old, Smith goes back to Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood’s reverse-swing. Lyon is summoned only when one of the pacers needs respite from the workload. Lyon has very little buffer time to provide breakthroughs.

Despite all the disfavour, Lyon buys some breathing space for his captain. He walks off with a vital wicket or two, bringing Australia back into the contest.

‘Lyon bowls as well as the great Jim Laker’

“Nathan Lyon is bowling as well as the great Jim Laker. Deadly accurate, big spin and big bounce. I played against and with Jim. Nathan is as good against left-handers as any offie ever. If he stays fit he could finish his career up there with Warner. Good luck,” wrote former England player Barry Knight on Facebook during The Gabba Test.

Lyon’s comparison with Laker, the first ever to take all 10 wickets in an innings, speaks volumes of his ability. Although Laker’s average of 21.4 compared to Lyon’s 31.4 is far superior, Knight must have thought something when he made the observations.

Would Lyon have been more successful bowler had he played more in the subcontinent?

Perhaps, yes. Perhaps, no. You never know. You do not want to beat your brains on this. During Australia’s tour of India 2016-17, Lyon claimed 19 wickets at 25.26, in contrast to R Ashwin’s 21 wickets at 27.38. This does state a startling fact. He anyway is the most successful off-spinner for Australia, and is now the highest wicket-taker in Tests in 2017.

Australia, however, wouldn’t care less about these numbers. They want Lyon to do what he does the best: pick those all-important wickets when the pacers run out of steam. And of course, he fancies being the night-watchman for the team. He is a cool cricketer.

Albeit Lyon’s spells may not look as magnificent as Smith’s innings, England have feasted their significant wickets to him and at the wrong time. Why do you think England have not been able to construct match-defining partnerships? Lyon has been feeding on them.