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Nathan Lyon enters the 300 club

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Nathan_Lyon_Australia_CricketThe ball-tampering controversy in the 3rd South Africa vs Australia Test at Cape Town overshadowed a worthy Australian landmark. Nathan Lyon took his 300th Test wicket when Kagiso Rabada was stumped by Tim Paine off his bowling. Lyon became the 6th Australian and the 33rd overall to reach this milestone. Only 9 out of the 33 are spinners, which shows the enormity of the achievement.

The average cricketer plays more Test cricket in this era than before; therefore, Lyon’s career needs to analyzed carefully to understand whether he is one of many good bowlers who has lasted the distance or if he approaches greatness. In general, fast bowlers have better averages and strike rates than spinners, and that has to be taken into account as well.

Lyon’s progress to the highest level of the game wasn’t made by gradually progressing step by step through the various levels of cricket played in Australia. He was a curator at the Adelaide Oval who began to play for Australia. He had a dream start to his Test career when he dismissed Kumar Sangakkara at Galle to become the 17th player to take a wicket with his very first ball in Tests. Only 20 bowlers have achieved this feat.

The table below gives Lyon’s Test record all over the world.

 

 

Matches

Wickets

Bowling Average

Strike Rate

Overall

77

301

31.76

62.1

Home

37

139

33.74

66.5

Away

38

159

27.97

55.3

Neutral

2

8

140.66

220

 

While his figures do not appear to be impressive at first, he has taken more than 4 wickets per Test away from home, at a sub 30 bowling average, which is very good for a spinner. Moreover, he has played 37 Tests in Australia which is generally a very hard place for finger spinners to thrive.

Australia has a rich tradition of leg-spinners and finger spinners have to be extremely capable to even merit a place in the playing XI. Lyon has taken the 2nd most number of wickets by a spinner in Australia, on pitches which are usually a graveyard for off-spinners.

He is the 5th most prolific off-spinner in Tests after Muttiah Muralitharan, Harbhajan Singh, Ravichandran Ashwin and Lance Gibbs. Currently, he has a better average and strike rate than Harbhajan Singh, which shows that he has the potential to have a long and prolific Test career. He is also still only 30 years of age, which is considered an age when spinners mature and have their best years ahead of them.

The table below gives the records of some famous spinners in Australia in Tests.

 

Player

Wickets

Bowling average

Anil Kumble

49

37.73

Daniel Vettori

37

40.18

Tim May

30

40.03

Muttiah Muralitharan

12

75.41

Harbhajan Singh

9

73.22

Ravichandran Ashwin

21

54.71

Abdul Qadir

12

61

Saqlain Mushtaq

14

34.14

 

Other than Tim May, all of the above bowlers have had distinguished careers at the international level and their poor records in Australia show that it is a graveyard for spinners unless a bowler is top-class and bowls wrist spin. The fact that Lyon has a better record than them, that too after playing 37 Tests and claiming 139 wickets, shows that he has the goods and is the genuine article.

Indians are generally considered to be the best players of spin and Lyon is the highest wicket-taker among Australian spinners against India, taking 64 wickets in 14 Tests at 33.31 and a strike rate of 57.2. Even the peerless Shane Warne has just 43 wickets against India in the same number of Tests at 47.18 and a strike rate of 91.2.

The only spinner to take more wickets against India in Tests is Murali and even he has done so at just a marginally better average and a worse strike rate.

Lyon’s bowling average in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th innings in Tests are 29.56, 33.84, 29.9 and 34.21 respectively. This shows that he takes wickets early on, even when there is not much assistance for the spinners. He is not dependent on the pitch deteriorating in the 4th innings to take wickets cheaply.

Even though Lyon struck with his first delivery in Tests when he made his Test debut against Sri Lanka on 31st August 2011, he had an average first four years in Test cricket. Until 13th November 2015, he had played 48 Tests and had taken 169 wickets at a high average of 34.17.

However, from 27th November 2015 till date, he has taken 132 wickets in 29 Tests at an impressive average of 28.68 and a strike rate of 58.5. During this period, he is the 3rd highest wicket-taker in Tests behind Ashwin and Kagiso Rabada, who have taken 142 and 138 wickets respectively.

Lyon also had a dream year in 2017 and was the highest wicket-taker in Tests with 63 scalps to his name. At the start of the year, he took 8/50 against India at Bangalore, which remains the best figures by an Australian spinner in Tests away from home as well as the best figures by a visiting spinner in India.

Alastair Cook (8), Cheteshwar Pujara, (7) and Ajinkya Rahane (6) are the batsmen that Lyon has dismissed the most in Tests. 202 out of his 301 wickets have been top and middle order batsmen.

In conclusion, we can say that though Lyon’s figures appear ordinary at first sight, a deeper analysis shows that he has several redeeming features where he scores over other top bowlers. If he can continue the improvement that he has shown in the last couple of years, Lyon can be included in the pantheon of all-time great spinners.

 

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