Nathan Lyon, for the last 18 months, has been Australia’s no.1 spinner. He has made a steady start to his career.
After 19 Tests, Lyon has 61 wickets at an average of 32. At 25 he has a long career ahead of him, however there are still critics and journalists out there who criticise him.
He has copped it for not being able to take wickets in the second innings of a Test match especially on spinner-friendly tracks, and also for bowling too fast and too straight.
But a lot of people forget the greatest leg spinner of all-time, Shane Keith Warne didn’t have the greatest start to his career either. He averaged 50 in his first eight Test matches until his average dropped down below 30 after the ’93 Ashes.
Obviously people will think I’m living in a different world comparing Lyon to Warne but like Warne, he can only get better.
And there is no greater place to do that than India which is always has spinner friendly pitches. Lyon will have the chance to permanently lock in a spot for the back-to-back Ashes series if he bowls well.
If Lyon can take 20 or more wickets in the four Test series, he will seriously establish himself and become Australia’s best spinner since Warne.
He will also do something that not even the great Warne could do. Usually India favours all types of spinners, but not Warne. He “only” took 42 wickets in India at an average of over 40.
For now, Lyon seems safe for probably the next couple of seasons as Australia don’t seem to have a second choice spinner who has performed convincingly at first-class level.
Since Warne’s retirement, there have been a dozen spinners tried and only two have been somewhat successful: Nathan Hauritz and Nathan Lyon.
A dislocated shoulder in the second ODI against England in 2011 at Hobart ended Hauritz’s career and although heavily criticised at times, he could consider himself one of the unluckiest Australian cricketers.
His record of 63 wickets at 34 was better than any spinner who had been tried since Warne. But now, he seems nowhere in the minds of selectors.
When Australia had Warne, they still had a second-choice spinner in Stuart MacGill. MacGill for most of his career lived in the shadow of Warne, but still managed to take 208 wickets at 29 with a best of 8/108 in 44 Tests.
He never was going to be better than Warne but always was chosen whenever Warne was injured or suspended. With Lyon looking to establish himself as the no.1 spinner, Australia need a second spinner in case Lyon does injure himself at any point.
Michael Beer was named alongside Lyon during the West Indies series as the second spinner and played in the second Test.
He picked up 2/56 in the first innings but never really looked threatening as Lyon took 5/68. In the two Test matches he has played, he has picked up three wickets at 60 with an appalling strike rate of 135.
The other choices include Stephen O’Keefe, Steve Smith, Jon Holland, Glenn Maxwell or even Xavier Doherty. With most of those candidates other than Holland being all-rounders, Doherty may be the one to go to.
In the two Tests Doherty has played, he has taken three wickets at 102 with a strike rate of 151. Since then he has been thrown out of Test contention.
But his short form stats are far more respectable with 45 wickets at 34 with a strike rate of 43. He may have to improve on his 44 average for Tasmania but if Doherty can finish the season strong both for Australia and Tasmania, he could earn a recall sometime in the next 12 months.
Both Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar did extremely well and both took over 20 wickets for the series. Nathan Lyon will need someone else to assist him when bowling as it seems unlikely he can rip through a top or middle order.
But if he has a second spinner to bowl in partnership with, he can devise a plan to get out a batsman.
The Indian series will be a huge test for Nathan Lyon’s ability and it will determine whether he is capable enough of becoming Australia’s no.1 spinner.