Is Nathan Lyon destined for 400 Test wickets?

Date: August 28, 2015 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Nathan LyonFollowing Shane Warne’s retirement at the end of the 2006-07 Ashes series Australian cricket was desperate to find a regular spin bowler.

Replacing Warne was always going to be an impossible task as he was a once in a multi-generation player.

While everyone understood that there was a belief that an ongoing, viable option could at least be located from amongst Australia’s first-class ranks.

When Warne retired his contemporary, Stuart MacGill at 18 months younger, was seen as a short-term stop gap. As it turned MacGill managed just four more Tests before being forced into retirement by injury.

From that point, in June 2008, spinners largely came and went as if a revolving door had been installed. In the time since Warne hung up the boots the national selectors chose 14 spinners in less than eight years:

Only Hauritz (16 Tests) and Lyon (46) managed to make more than five appearances – Smith has gone on to play 33 Tests but his return to the side in 2013 was as a batsman having played his first five as a specialist  spinner.

Lyon was the 11th chosen in the post-Warne era and despite doubts expressed through the early part of his tenure he has become a key element in Australia’s attack.

Since Warne left the scene, the 13 specialist spinners other than Lyon played a combined total of 48 Tests for 123 wickets at 49.6. Those aggregate figures paint Lyon’s 46-Test haul of 162 wickets at 34.1 in a very favourable light.

Outgoing skipper Michael Clarke was a strong ally and he possessed the intuitive sense to work with his off-spinner with respect to setting fields. Lyon will be hoping that Smith can continue the trend.

History indicates that off-spin bowling in Australian conditions has never been too easy –both Harbhajan Singh and Muttiah Muralitharan averaged over 70 runs per wicket on Australian pitches.

Down through the years it has been the leg-spinners who have made the most of Australian conditions. Warne (708 wickets), Richie Benaud (248), Clarrie Grimmett (216) and MacGill (208) lead the way on the all-time wicket-taking list.

Lyon went past Hugh Trumble’s 111-year-old Australian finger-spinning record of 144 scalps in the Caribbean in June.

Lyon, who was picked almost on spec in 2011 after having made just seven first-class appearances, is currently in the best form of his career. His 16 wickets at 28.2 in the Ashes series followed eight wickets at 19.2 in the two Tests against the West Indies.

His control and penetration has improved markedly in the past 12 months with his eight Tests this year resulting in 24 wickets at 25.2.

His dismissal of England captain Alastair Cook on day two of the final Test at The Oval was testament to how far he has come.

Ahead of the 2013 Ashes series Cricket Australia did all it could to fast-track the citizenship of Pakistan-born leggie Fawad Ahmed. Whilst he qualified to play in that series he did not make the cut but on the back of an outstanding Sheffield Shield season he was selected for the current England tour but his form in the county matches was far from impressive.

The selectors will continue to search for a leg-spinner with youngsters James Muirhead, Cameron Boyce and Adam Zampa all in the frame for future selection.

At present Lyon is well entrenched in the side and it will take some significant improvement from others who covet the role to displace him.

Lyon is well on the way to forging an extremely significant Test career.

The fact that he is currently not seen as a limited-overs bowler by the selectors will keep him fresh for the longer form of the game.

It is well worth remembering that Graeme Swann, who rose to great heights with England, did not debut at Test level until he was 29 years, eight months old. He went on to play 60 Tests, capturing 255 wickets at 30.0.

Lyon does not turn 28 until 20 November. Should he continue at the same rate he will likely have around 210 wickets at the same age that Swann was embarking on his Test career.

There is every prospect that come the end of his career Lyon could have over 400 Test wickets, a performance that would place him in among the best performed bowlers in Australia’s well storied cricket history.

Not bad for a bloke who was seemingly chosen at a time when Australia was simply desperate to fill a gaping hole.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 27 August 2015, soliciting 52 comments