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