Will Lyon end up Australia’s most successful off-spinner?

Date: November 29, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Nathan Lyon is destined to become Australia’s most successful Test off-spinner in terms of career wickets.

Whilst he has received a fair amount of criticism from the fans in his short career he is on track to eclipse those who have preceded him and write himself into the history books.

Traditionally Australia has not been a nation that has produced many long-term offies.

Down through the years our most successful slow bowlers have all been leg-spinners – Shane Warne (708 wickets), Richie Benaud (248), Clarrie Grimmett (216), Stuart MacGill (208) and Bill O’Reilly (144) all come ahead of the most successful off-spinner.

That man is Hugh Trumble, who plied his trade in 32 Tests between 1890 and 1904 for a total of 141 wickets at the remarkable average of 21.8.

Next best is Ashley Mallet whose 12-year career that ended in 1980 produced 132 wickets in 39 Tests at 29.8.

Lyon has just completed his 26th Test and in that time has claimed 89 scalps at 32.4.

To put Lyon’s career into a modern-day perspective, Tim May’s career lasted 24 Tests during which he claimed 75 wickets at 34.7.

When you consider where Lyon has come from there is abundant cause for hope in the years ahead.

Born in the New South Wales country town of Young, he spent time in Canberra as a curator before making the move to South Australia where he took up a position on the Adelaide Oval ground staff and played club cricket.

He was identified by Darren Berry, the coach of the Adelaide-based BBL franchise, the Strikers, as a player who could succeed at a higher level.

Berry’s assessment triggered one of the most meteoric rises through the ranks in Australian cricket.

In 2011, he moved from club cricketer to a BBL player, to a Sheffield Shield representative and on to a Test cap in under eight months – it was head-spinning stuff.

When he strode out at Galle to make his Test debut against Sri Lanka in August 2011 he had played only five first-class matches in which he had taken 14 wickets.

Undaunted by his inexperience at first-class level he claimed figures of 5-34 and 1-73 in his maiden Test.

Since his debut he has been in and out of the Test side regularly.

This year alone he has been omitted and recalled twice.

After playing the opening Test of the India series at Chennai in February he was dropped for the next match at Hyderabad with coach Mickey Arthur stating that he was down on confidence and had technical issues that needed to be addressed.

Lyon was quick to dismiss talk of both those suggestions.

Come the next Test at Mohali he was back in the side and at Delhi in the fourth and final Test of the series he claimed a career-best 7-94 in India’s first innings.

Yet, despite that performance, when Australia rolled out for the opening Ashes encounter at Trent Bridge in July he had been usurped by teenage left-arm finger-spinner Ashton Agar.

While Agar excelled with the bat he struggled to have an effect with the ball and Lyon was recalled for the third Test at Old Trafford.

It was then on to the return battle for the little urn and in the opening Test at the Gabba he bowled arguably as well as he ever has at Test level.

His first over at Brisbane produced more turn than his English counterpart Graeme Swann did for the match.

The fifth and sixth deliveries of his opening over in the tourist’s first innings drifted, spun sharply and extracted appreciable bounce as they fizzed past the outside edge of Michael Carberry’s probing blade.

He then proceeded to bowl an exemplary spell of 7-4-7-2, and was on a hat-trick at one stage with the wickets of Ian Bell and Matt Prior in consecutive deliveries.

Equally as important as his two strikes was the fact that he dried up one end which allowed Mitchell Johnson at the other to go hell for leather.

In the space of a handful of overs England lost 6-9, and with it, the prospect of taking a series lead to Adelaide.

There is no doubt that Lyon is maturing as a bowler with every outing and his future is extremely bright, given he made his Test debut at the age of 24 (he turned 26 just eight days ago), while Swann didn’t enter Test cricket until he was 28 and since then has captured 250 wickets in 58 Tests.

There has been criticism from some that he has failed to ‘get the job done’ for Australia in the fourth innings – most notably against South Africa at Adelaide last season where Faf du Plessis and co held out for a draw.

That deficiency will hopefully become less frequent as Lyon matures as a bowler.

Hopefully the selectors will now grant him a considerable unbroken run in the team which will allow him to further develop his game.

Australia has often brought undone touring off-spinners, some of them of the highest calibre.

World record wicket-taker Muttiah Muralitharan captured his Test wickets in this country at 75.4; Harbhajan Singh at 73.2; and Swann at 47.8.

For his part, Lyon’s 12 Tests on Australian soil have produced 40 wickets at 31.8.

Upon his retirement at the end of last summer, Mike Hussey passed on the honour of leading the team’s victory song to Lyon, citing that he was the right type of man to uphold the tradition given his work ethic and the pride he had in representing his country.

After nine Tests waiting for the opportunity to test out his vocal chords, Lyon finally got the opportunity last start at the Gabba.

Hopefully he will have more opportunities this season and beyond as he grows as both a bowler and song master.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 28 November 2013