Nathan Lyon should be in Australian ODI side

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Australian cricket selectors need to add coloured clothing to the wardrobe of Test spinner Nathan Lyon. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

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If Australia wants to win next year’s World Cup, it needs an effective spinner in its 50-over side. Four of the top seven-ranked ODI bowlers are tweakers.

Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal, West Indian Sunil Narine, India’s Ravindra Jadeja and Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath each are their team’s most valuable bowlers.

The ability of these spinner to act as both a runsaver and a wicket taker in the middle overs of an innings is invaluable.

Last year Doherty took just seven wickets at 66 in his 14 matches.

He has been afforded generous opportunities in ODIs the past three years, but an average of 39 after 51 matches is not even close to acceptable.

Far from developing with experience as an ODI player, Doherty has manifestly gone backwards.

At 31 years old, with 12 years of List A cricket behind him, it seems extremely unlikely he is going to improve to any great extent.

The Tasmanian struggles to beat batsmen either in the flight or off the pitch. For a spinner that renders you all but impotent.

Because Doherty gets very little work on the ball, he cannot make his deliveries drift or drop on the batsman, or bite off the pitch.

Players can skip down the wicket to him with comfort. His only variety is a slider which hurries on to the batsman.

As a traditional off-spinner in the mould of the recently-retired Graeme Swann, Lyon too does not have much variety.

He does, however, have one sizeable advantage over Doherty which was evident throughout the Ashes – his ability to defeat batsmen in the flight.

This was the most glaring difference between Lyon’s offerings and those of Swann.

The Aussie imparted heavy overspin on the ball, which not only made his deliveries dip on batsmen but ensured he extracted the maximum level of bounce from the wicket.

Doherty, similar to Swann in the Tests this summer, bowls with too great a degree of side spin.

As a result many of his deliveries just skid on, which allows batsman to hit through the line with greater confidence than against a spinner who is making the ball drop and leap off the surface.

As joint-hosts of the next World Cup in just over a year, Australia are well place to regain the trophy which they won three times in succession from 1999 to 2007.

The Australian selectors must swiftly move on from Doherty and allow Lyon to adapt to a format in which he has limited experience.

Lyon’s critics will fairly point to the fact that he hasn’t performed well in 50-over cricket at State level, having snared just 29 wickets at 37.

But he is one of those players who takes his game to another level in international competition, as he has shown in Test cricket.

There were calls for him to be overlooked for the Ashes when he returned just 10 wickets at 35 in the Sheffield Shield prior to the start of the Test series.

Lyon quickly stamped his class by playing a pivotal role in the first Test and going on to comprehensively outbowl England’s much more experienced and highly-rated spinners.

Calls for Lyon to be given a crack at ODIs have previously been met with concerns from some pundits and fans that it would harm his Test bowling.

Yet all of the best Test spinners of the past two decades have played significant roles for their nations in the 50-over format.

If anything, exposure to more aggressive batsmanship should make Lyon a better-rounded spinner.

A degree of his success against England this summer stemmed from the fact the visiting batsman were too timid to knock him off his line and length.

By comparison, the Australian batsman launched a blitzkrieg on Swann and Monty Panesar which neither veteran could withstand.

Lyon’s lowest ebb as a Test cricketer came in the first Test against India Chennai last February.

Indian skipper MS Dhoni smashed Lyon for 104 runs from 85 balls in the first innings of the match as he caned a match-winning double century.

Lyon clearly was unaccustomed to encountering such belligerence, largely because of his lack of experience in international limited overs cricket.

If he is to take the next step and become an elite Test spinner, he must learn to deal with the aggression which he will face when bowling to the likes of Dhoni, Virat Kohli, AB de Villers and Hashim Amla.

To me, dumping Doherty for Lyon is a no brainer which could improve both Australia’s ODI and Test prospects.

Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for more than a decade, including 9 years at daily papers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco
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