ASHES: Talking points from Melbourne day three
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Australian bowler Mitchell Johnson and England's Kevin Pietersen exchange words on the third day of the fourth Ashes Test . AFP PHOTO/Mal Fairclough
Which team is ahead in this Test? Is Nathan Lyon the most underrated player in Test cricket?
These questions were posed by an eventful day’s play which saw Australia complete a remarkable fightback to dismiss England for 179 and finish the day needing just 201 runs for victory with 10 wickets in hand.
Is Lyon the most underrated player in Test cricket?
During the last Ashes in England, the home team believed the gulf in talent between tweakers Graeme Swann and Nathan Lyon was so distinct that they had dry pitches prepared to exploit it.
Little more than five months on and Swann has been forced into retirement while Lyon has played a massive role in Australia regaining the Ashes.
The Aussie off spinner, who snared his 100th Test wicket today, is lambasted by scores of local and foreign fans every time he delivers a poor spell.
Frequently described as an ‘average’ bowler, he is constantly underestimated.
Yet he continues to embarrass his critics.
In the final Test of Australia’s disastrous tour of India in March, Lyon displayed a subtly remodelled action and a change in his stock angle to around the wicket.
At Delhi in that match, Lyon snared a career-high nine wickets, dislodging Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar in both digs.
Including that Test, his last eight matches have seen him return the brilliant figures of 34 wickets at 26.
Most importantly, he is developing a habit of making breakthroughs at pivotal moments for Australia.
In the series opener at Brisbane, Lyon dismissed Ian Bell and Matt Prior off successive deliveries to break the back of England’s first innings.
Then on the last day of that Test, as Alastair Cook threatened to bat his side to a draw, Lyon procured a loose shot from the English skipper to end his 195-minute vigil and kill off England’s hopes of avoiding defeat.
At the WACA, Lyon again prompted the key dismissal, defeating Cook who was well set on 72 to trigger another English batting slide in their first innings.
He helped seal the 3-0 series win in Perth by removing both Kevin Pietersen and Ben Stokes as they threatened to make a game of it in the fourth innings.
Today, however, was his crowning achievement.
He dismissed England’s three most in-form batsmen – Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Stokes – amid his first five-for on home soil.
He defeated each player in the flight, drawing loose strokes which ended in the mitts of fielders.
Lyon’s passion for cricket bleeds through every time he steps on to a Test ground.
His patent determination to hone his skills has been manifested not just in his increasingly potent bowling but also in his vastly improved displays in the field and with the blade.
When he debuted for Australia in Sri Lanka just over two years ago he was a genuine batting bunny.
That was no surprise given Lyon had played only five first-class games to that point so he had little exposure to top-level bowling.
His assured defence, combined with a blossoming range of strokes, has seen him average 24 with the bat in his past 10 Tests.
He has also become a reliable fieldsman after appearing sloppy during the infancy of his Test career.
I recently posed the question in a story for The Roar of whether England’s flagging paceman James Anderson was the most overhyped cricketer in Test cricket.
Now, I ask you Roarers, where does Lyon sit among the most underrated Test cricketers?
Which team is ahead in this Test?
The match swung violently in Australia’s favour in a fast-paced final session today.
But it cannot be overlooked that, since a drop-in pitch was introduced in 1996, the largest successful run chase at the MCG has been 183 by South Africa in 2008.
Australia still require 201 runs to win and remain a skittish batting side.
Should England manage to take two or more wickets in the first session tomorrow panic could well set in for Australia.
Their Ashes adversaries may have stolen the crown as the kings of the collapse this summer.
But Australia remain capable of committing cricketing hari kari as we saw in the first innings here.
Cavalier opener David Warner is the lynchpin for Australia.
While he is at the crease England will be on the defence.
If he survives to lunch I think Australia will win.
The key for England will be to conquer Warner swiftly and then put the squeeze on Australia’s batsman as they did so successfully in the first dig.
As it stands I would place Australia as tepid favourites to triumph.
Percentage wise it is about 60 percent Australia, 40 percent England with no chance of a draw.
Ronan O'Connell has been a professional journalist for more than a decade, including 9 years at daily newspapers in WA, with 7 of those at The West Australian. He is currently traversing the world while working as a freelance sports and travel journalist. Follow him on twitter @ronanoco