Can Nathan Lyon reach 400 Test wickets?

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Cricket

December 31, 2014

When legendary leg spinner Shane Warne retired in January 2007, many thought that the only way to replace him was to pick another leg spinner.

And why not? We wanted to see the continued art of leg spin in action. Watching Warne bowl different variations such as the leg break, googly, the top-spinner, slider, and of course the flipper, was a pleasure to watch.

At the time, Warne’s fellow contemporary, Stuart MacGill, was still playing, but he was only a couple of years younger and obviously not a long-term option for Australia.

Australian selectors’ search for a replacement became a task in itself with as many as a dozen spinners been picked into the Test side with very few results.

The one spinner who has been most successful in the post-Warne era, is an off spinner, in the form of current Test spinner Nathan Lyon.

Lyon has taken 134 at 34.96 in 38 Tests and is on the verge of becoming Australia’s all-time leading wicket taking off spinner. The man Lyon is chasing is late 19th century off spinner Hugh Trumble. He took 141 wickets at 21.78, including nine five-wicket hauls in just 32 matches.

When Lyon made his Test debut against Sri Lanka, he only had a handful of Shield matches to his name. However, on his Test debut, he did make an immediate impact by dismissing Kumar Sangakkara on his very first ball. Lyon took 5-34 in his first bowling innings for Australia.

During the course of his Test career, Lyon has struggled on numerous occasions to bowl his side to victory on days four and five. The one key example was a couple of years ago against South Africa in Adelaide. South Africa started the final day four wickets down and looked headed for certain defeat.

But due to brick wall batting from Faf du Plessis and Lyon’s lack of confidence and patience, South Africa drew the Test eight wickets down and batted for 148 overs. Lyon only took one wicket on the final day.

Heading into the Test series against India, there was talk of Lyon’s position in the side. The main sticking point is can Lyon finally bowl Australia to victory in the fourth innings?

In the first Test against India, he finally sealed the deal by bowling Australia to victory on Day 5 by taking seven wickets, 12 in total for the match.

In the second Test at the GABBA, Lyon equalled former Australian off spinner Ashley Mallett’s record of 132 Test victims. And he quietly took more wickets in the Test (five) compared to Mitchell Johnson (four).

Incidentally, after the Gabba Test, Lyon and Mallett’s stats were very similar.

Lyon
Tests 37, wickets 132, ave 34.4, S/R 65.5, 5w 7, 10wm 1

Mallett
Tests 38, wickets 132, ave 29.84, S/R 75.6, 5w 6, 10wm 1

Traditionally, off spinners come into their own when they are in their thirties.

Graeme Swann made his debut at 29. He played 60 Tests, took 255 wickets at an average of just under 30. Another example is Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal. He debut at 31 and has played in 35 Tests and taken 178 wickets at 28.

In the recent tour of the UAE, Lyon spent time with Sri Lankan legend Muttiah Muralitharan. While back home, Lyon is gaining tutelage from former Canadian off spinner John Davison.

Behind the scenes, Lyon is working on a wicket-taking ball, such as the ‘Jeff’. He has bowled it a few times in Test matches, but at this stage hasn’t gained enough confidence to bowl it regularly.

The good news for Lyon is he will have good support from fast bowlers throughout his career. Working in tandem with Johnson and Harris at present, while cooperating with Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Jackson Bird and Jason Behrendorff in the future, will certainly help ease the pressure.

The other significant thing that will occur, barring any mishap, is Lyon will pass Bill O’Reilly’s mark of 144 wickets. Australia’s top five leading spinners are all leg spinners.

Australia’s top spinners
1. Shane Warne (leg) 708 (wickets)
2. Richie Benaud (leg) 248
3. Clarrie Grimmett (leg) 216
4. Stuart MacGill (leg) 208
5. Bill O’Reilly (leg) 144
6. Hugh Trumble (off) 141
7. Nathan Lyon ( off) 134
8. Ashley Mallett (off) 132
9. Bruce Yardley (off) 126
10. Ian Johnson (off) 109
11. George Giffen (off) 103

At 27, Lyon does have the potential to play for Australia for the next 10 years.

If that comes to fruition, can Lyon reach 400 Test wickets? He currently has 134 wickets and is more than a third of the way there. We could be seeing Australia’s best ever off spinner right in front of our eyes without realising it.

If Lyon surpasses the mark or comes anywhere near it, he needs to develop a wicket-taking ball or two. And he needs to slow down the pace of his spinners. Lyon is constantly bowling around the 90 kilometres per hour mark, where really he should be bowling around 80 to 82 kilometres per hour.

That in itself will help him to continue have success on days four and five of a Test match.

If Lyon does get more than 400 Test wickets, then many people, including myself, would gain new appreciation and respect for the art of off spin bowling. Leg spinners ain’t the only spinners that take wickets.

So Roarers what do you think? Can Lyon get 400 Test wickets?

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What do Shane Watson and Greg Matthews have in common?

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December 15, 2014

 

Apart from the obvious traits that both are Australian Test alrounders, there is another thing that Shane Watson and Greg Matthews have in common.

As we all know, Watson and Matthews are complete opposite personalities off the field.

Watson is a buffed-up individual with the looks, legally blonde hair, cute smile, speaks conventionally and has appeared in Brut ad.

Matthews on the other hand came across as scruffy,rebel without a cause, anti-establishment, no hair, and a bit of a loose cannon. Talks in unconventionally lingo and is/was a client of Advance Hair Studios, Who could forget “advanced hair…yeah yeah!”.

However, the common ground for both players is they have been utilised incorrectly by the Australian Test team past and present.

For many years now, there has always been conjecture surrounding Shane Watson’s place in the Test side.

The reasons for that conjecture comes down to been in and out of the Test side due to injury concerns. And when Watson does play, he has been criticised for making many starts and failing to go on with it. While his placing of the front foot has always made Watson prone to the LBW and bowled dismissals.

As for his bowling, he has been servicable at times, but never a match winner.

From an early age, Watson was viewed as a highly talented alrounder. Although, thus far to date, he has fallen short on that promise and at 33, time is running out.

Watson should have been a specialist batsman only, batting either as an opener or at number three, where he averages around the 40 mark, ahead of his overall average of 35.98.

Watson should’ve given up on the bowling five or six years ago, and therefore, avoid the injuries he has suffered throughout his career.

When you look at the careers of Steve Waugh and Steve Smith, both started off their Test careers as alrounders.

When Waugh and Smith were dropped from the Test side, both made the conscious effort to concentrate on their batting and less on their bowling. Both redefined their roles in the Australian side.

The result?

Waugh scored close to 11,000 Test runs at 51, while Smith has five centuries, averages 46 and is next in line to captain Australia after Michael Clarke retires.

As we rewind back the clock to the 80s and early 90s, Matthews batted at number seven for majority of his Test career and ended up with an impressive average of 41, which included four Test centuries.

Matthews batted at number seven in 33 of his 53 Tests innings. In that batting position, with the ball, he was deployed either as the only spinner, or a second spinner.

But his bowling overall in Test cricket didn’t make for any pleasant reading.He took 61 wickets at 48.22. With the ball, Matthews is best remembered for taking ten wickets in the Madras tied Test in 1986.

The one interesting thing when you look at the bowling stats of Matthews is in the third and fourth innings of a Test match, he did average 35 and 31 respectively. This is respectable compared to his Test bowling average of 48.

Matthews was a wily old spinner in the domestic scene where he took over 500 first class wickets. Matthews’ canny off spinners may have been handy come days four and five. But in the main, Matthews lacked the penetration and turn to prize out batsmen on a consistent basis.

Quite often, he’d be taken to the cleaners by Sir Vivian Richards.

If Matthews’ role was redefined, he should’ve batted at six, especially with a Test average of over 40. As a batsman, he was a fighter and a scapper. Once Matthews got in, he did take some moving from the crease.

The only dampener with his batting, was he only averaged 15 against the West Indies. But when your up against Messers Garner, Holding, Marshall, Walsh and Ambrose, it was never an easy task.

Sure, Matthews had eight not outs in his career. But to balance the ledger, he bizarrely opened the batting twice.

As a bowler, he could’ve been used as a fifth bowling option, either behind the four quicks, or as a second spinner, and be used primarily in the second innings of Test matches.

Matthews played his last Test in 1993. Yet, if he was a player today, there’s a fair chance he would walk straight into the current Test side.

For both Watson and Matthews, there careers haven’t been utilised in the right manner. If it did, both may have been champion players.

When you look at both players Test statistics, Watson is solid around, while Matthews has impressive batting figures.

Watson stats
Tests 53, runs 3,455, ave 35.98, 100s 4, 50s 22
Wickets 69, ave 32.14, S/R 70.1, 5w 3, 10wm 0

Matthews stats
Tests 33, runs 1849, ave 41.08, 100s 4, 50s 12
Wickets 61, ave 48.22, S/R 102.8, 5w 2, 10wm 1.

The real lesson going forward for future Test players, is to identify what roles they could offer their first class teams and the Test team. This issue is mainly surrounded by players who believe can offer more then one role to the side, yet are only capable in performing one task.

Is Mitch Marsh an alrounder or a batsman? At Shield level, is NSW’s Ryan Carters a batsman or a wicketkeeper batsman? And the same question applies to Victoria’s Peter Handscombe.

The sooner we identify the key roles of a player, the better. We don’t need more unfilled careers like Watson and Matthews.

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Was Phil Hughes harshly treated by the selectors?

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December 2, 2014

At just 25, Phil Hughes had the world at his feet. I can’t imagine what his family is going through.

Hughes has received wonderful tributes throughout Australia and the world, along with countless minutes of silence in various capacities.

Junior cricketers around Australia retired on the weekend with their score on 63. One junior cricketer made 37 and he walked off. Someone asked  him why and the young lad said, “I finished his 100 for him”.

In the Sharjah Test match between New Zealand and Pakistan, Pakistan players had their bats out with their caps attached to them. New Zealand players had the initials ‘PH’ under the silver fern and when they got a wicket there was no celebration.

In the A-League in every match on the 63rd minute mark the crowd gave a minute of applause.

On Twitter current and ex-cricketers from Australia and around the world conveyed their tributes.

It has also touched stars from other sports such as Rafa Nadal and David Beckham, and sporting teams like the New Zealand All Blacks, England Rugby team and football club Arsenal FC.

The phenomenon of #putoutyourbats on social media has been nothing short of remarkable. Whether cricketers, other sports stars, celebrities, politicians or your normal average Joe, everyone has put out their bat in support and affection towards Hughes.

This tragedy has also reached America, with an article in the New York Times, while baseball player and namesake Phil Hughes also sent his condolences.

Her majesty the Queen did likewise, while music legend Elton John also payed tribute while he was doing a concert in Germany.

The boy from Macksville and son of a banana farmer has touched the world.

Hughes, at the age of 20, made his Test debut against South Africa in 2009 after a healthy start to his first class career. He became the 408th player to wear the baggy green. In the second Test of that series, he made a hundred in each innings.

A few months later, in the 2009 Ashes series, Hughes was dropped after a difficult showing in the Lord’s second Test. Theoretically, Hughes was dropped five innings after those twin tons.

When he was first dropped from the Test side, he was only 20. After his first five Tests, he accumulated 472 runs at an average of 52.44 including two hundreds and a fifty from nine innings.

Looking at those figures, that is a great start to his Test career, especially for a 20-year-old. So why did the selectors drop him?

In the subsequent four years, he was dropped a further two times. He made 86 not out against New Zealand in 2010 but was replaced by Shane Watson and was then left out after suffering four modes of dismissal of “caught Guptill bowled Martin” against New Zealand in 2011.

When Hughes made 1 and 1 in the second Test at Lord’s in the Ashes series of 2013, he was dropped again. This sadly was to be his 26th and final Test match.

At just 24, Hughes was dropped four times from the selectors.

My feeling is that whenever Australia lost a Test match really badly, selectors were looking for quick fixes. There was also the feeling that Hughes’ unorthodox homespun technique would struggle the test of time in Test cricket.

Fast forward to November 2014, stories were doing the rounds that Michael Clarke would miss the first Test against India due to injury.

Hughes was playing in a Shield match against his old state, NSW. Sensing the opportunity, Hughes was determined to get a decent score, preferably a hundred to make the selectors sit up and take notice.

Things were going swimmingly for Hughes. He posted another first class half century and looked to be on his way to another Shield century.

On 63, Sean Abbott, a medium pacer, bowled a short-pitched delivery. Hughes’ instinct was to pull that delivery to the boundary for four and edge closer to a century and a Test recall.

Hughes went through the shot before the ball had arrived and therefore the subsequent fatal blow occurred.

From there we all know what transpired. Hughes passed away two days later in Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital.

Now before anyone gets any wrong ideas, let’s separate the tragedy and deal with the issue regarding Hughes’ treatment from the selectors.

It was ridiculous that he was dropped from the Test side four times by the age of 24. That shouldn’t happen.

Hughes isn’t the only player that has been unnecessarily dropped from the Test side. Left-arm fast bowler Mitch Starc has been dumped on numerous occasions and he is only 24.

Compare that to former Australian Test captain Steve Waugh, who made his first Test century in his 26th Test match.

In future, selectors need to persist with young players, otherwise how are young players going to develop as cricketers?

The legacy that Phillip Joel Hughes leaves behind is a player with unbridled talent who never gave up and was a great role model to young kids.

The world has lost a special person. At 63 not out, a Test average of 32 and at an age of 25, he had a lot to give.

Phil Hughes’ memory should never be forgotten. RIP Phil, 63 not out forever #408.

My family, friends and I would like to pass on our condolences to the Hughes family in this very difficult time.

A special mention to Sean Abbott. He is not to blame for this incident. A freakish one-in-a-million type accident. He needs a strong support network to get through this tragedy.

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