A few wickets doesn’t cover Lyon’s deficiencies

Chris Kettlewell Roar Guru

By Chris Kettlewell, Chris Kettlewell is a Roar Guru

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    Australia had a good win in the third Test having been smashed in the first two Tests.

    In the first two, the complete ineffectiveness of Nathan Lyon was a glaring issue.

    In Adelaide, Lyon finally played a part in snaring victory, picking up a few wickets getting the ball to rip with turn and bounce. Much to the satisfaction of Shane Warne and the other commentators, happily proclaiming that Nathan Lyon was back.

    Warne, who is always looked at as the expert commentator on spin bowling, can’t ever seem to find fault with any spinner.

    For him it seems that if the spinner is bowling rubbish it’s all the captain’s fault. Never the fault of the spinner.

    If Lyon’s getting the ball to turn and bounce lots, it’s never just because he’s playing in conditions that have lots of turn and bounce, it’s because he’s just bowling really well.

    But despite having the most spin-friendly pitch of the summer so far, there were still some major issues in Lyon’s bowling that really need to be addressed: variation and consistency.

    I know it could sound strange to say he needs both more variation and more consistency, but in the world of spin bowling, those two things actually are completely logical to list side by side.

    Consistency refers to being able to land the ball in a similar place ball after ball.

    Even in this Test where Lyon was much better, he was still bowling way too many balls that were either too full, too short or too wide, giving the batsman some easy scoring options and releasing the pressure. This reduces the chance of stacking up dots and pushing the batsman into trying something risky to score.

    One of the big things that sets the really good spinners apart is how few bad balls they bowl; able to continually get the ball in areas that make scoring difficult without taking risks. This helps to earn wickets at the other end as well, as batsmen may take risks to score off the other bowler since they are struggling to score off the spinner.

    Variation is about being able to land the ball in the same place six times in a row having bowled what appears to be pretty much the same delivery, yet having the ball behave differently.

    There was one telling delivery against JP Duminy that Duminy let through to the keeper. The ball that was delivered was on target to hit middle stump if it hadn’t turned. Yet Duminy quite comfortably let it go knowing that it was an off-spinner that was going to turn and beat off stump.

    Without the ability to bowl a ball that’s going to go straight on instead of gripping and turning, there’s no deception.

    Sure, if you’ve got a good enough spinners pitch some will turn a bit more or bounce a bit more and can cause issues. But without any sort of variation or deception on anything but the most spin friendly pitch, he’s going to be easy pickings for decent players of spin.

    With Pakistan the next Test series, and Lyon having done enough remain in the side, this could present an extremely trying series.

    Lyon has flirted with “Jeff” in the past, a ball that sort of went the other way. But he’s probably bowled it less than ten times in international matches and not in recent times.

    Not only does he not have a real variation ball he bowls, he bowls in a manner than doesn’t even seem to get any natural variation, where he bowls the same ball and has it behave differently.

    In the absence of any other option to fool the batsmen, maybe he should just hold the ball slightly differently to cause the ball to come out with a scrambled seam instead of a nice straight one like he bowls with.

    Then at least some balls land on the seam and turn, while others miss the seam and are more likely to just skid on without turning. But whatever he does, he needs some option to bring some mystery into his bowling.

    Until the batsman watches the ball out of the hand coming towards them and isn’t 100 per cent sure what’s going to happen when it pitches, he’s never going to be a fully effective international spin bowler.

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    The Crowd Says (28)

    • November 28th 2016 @ 8:48am
      Professor Rosseforp said | November 28th 2016 @ 8:48am | ! Report

      I saw him bowling on the first day, and saw that he was getting genuine swing — with the pink ball.

      • November 28th 2016 @ 5:07pm
        Ches said | November 28th 2016 @ 5:07pm | ! Report

        Lyon’s biggest problem is not his technical skill as a bowler. Granted he is not the best, but has enough Rev’s, Turn, bounce, bowls economically and has enough subtle variation to get the job done.

        His problem is he is too nice a guy and does not have enough “killer” instinct. Think Joe Bugner V Ali. Joe had him finished but not enough killer instinct to deliver the final blow.

        The way Smith is (or was) using him does not help his confidence at all but cannot be used as the sole blame.

    • November 28th 2016 @ 9:19am
      Gus Paella said | November 28th 2016 @ 9:19am | ! Report

      Lyon has to go right? It’s so easy to take wickets in Perth and Hobart as a finger spinner often bowling in the first innings of the test cos the skipper can’t win a toss.

      And then the batting this series has laid such a great platform as well, not to mention the plethora of standout spin selections at shield level.

      Just drop him already, landing 6 balls in the same spot is important. I don’t know why it just is!

      • Roar Guru

        November 28th 2016 @ 11:05am
        Chris Kettlewell said | November 28th 2016 @ 11:05am | ! Report

        I’m not necessarily saying he’s got to go. Happy for it to be that he improves rather than having to go.

        But even in a match where he did better, he still bowled way too many bad balls for a top line finger spinner, meaning he’s still struggling to apply consistent pressure on the batsmen. He had a few periods where he managed to bowl less bad balls and apply a bit of pressure and it really told. The Duminy dismissal came because of this, he’d managed to apply a bit of pressure and Duminy completely played across the line, against the spin and got out. But he’s not bringing that sort of pressure often enough.

        • November 28th 2016 @ 11:29am
          matth said | November 28th 2016 @ 11:29am | ! Report

          I’m glad you mentioned the Duminy dismissal, because that was due to Lyon doing exactly what you are asking. He achieved some consistency and pressure.

          I’n general though I agree with you. He does not have a lot of variation, which is one of the reasons he switches so much between over and around the wicket. Change of angle is his only variation. Problem is, it messes with his line and length.

    • November 28th 2016 @ 9:19am
      Dom said | November 28th 2016 @ 9:19am | ! Report

      Yeah I’m with you here. Obviously he’s not the major problem in the Aus team but the fact he’s our top wicket-taking Test spinner (ie. the only off spinner to get an extended stay for this many games) has clouded the fact that he’s an adequate player and not much more. His bowling average of 33 is on par with Shane Watson – obviously he bowls a lot more overs and provides some variety from the quicks but there’s still a strong argument that Steve O’Keefe is a better option. Hell, Holland from Victoria bowled better than both Lyon and O’Keefe last week.

      Lyon bowled a great spell the other night, but if that only comes once every three matches there has to be pressure on his position.

    • Roar Rookie

      November 28th 2016 @ 9:42am
      JamesH said | November 28th 2016 @ 9:42am | ! Report

      I agree that he needs more variation to regularly threaten good batsmen. However I think you need to give him a bit more credit in that regard, at least for this match. You’ve used one of the stock balls he bowled to Duminy to highlight his lack of variation, yet the ball he bowled Duminy with was exactly the variation he needed, skidding on with the arm instead of turning and bouncing away. We’ve been crying out for him to influence the back end of a game, when spinners are supposed to come to the fore, and that’s what he did.

      It should be obvious to anyone who watches Lyon regularly that he is a confidence bowler. His improvement under Clarke was clear and coincided with the fact that Clarke regularly threw him the ball as an attacking weapon and not as a backup plan. This match was the first time this summer that Smith has done so, and look how much better Lyon bowled, not just in terms of spin and bounce (which had as much to do with the pitch as it did with Lyon himself) but in terms of his consistency and attacking mindset.

      I acknowledge that he needs to harden up a bit and learn how to be useful when the match isn’t going his way. It is test cricket, after all. But if you can’t just bring a spin bowler on against set batsmen once the quicks have failed.

      • Roar Guru

        November 28th 2016 @ 11:14am
        Chris Kettlewell said | November 28th 2016 @ 11:14am | ! Report

        I wouldn’t exactly call the one that bowled Duminy one that skidded on with the arm. It turned and bounced. It was pitched a lot straighter then the one Duminy let go and he tried playing across the line and against the spin to the leg side and missed it. Bad shot really. But a good period of applying pretty and keeping the batsman tied down. And that’s what Lyon needs to do more. He had short periods where he’d keep it tight and put pressure off, but too often he was bowling one or two loose balls an over to relieve the pressure.

        Lyon has been in the test team for quite a long term consistent run, more than anyone since Shane Warne, and outside of Shane Warne, no other spinner in my living memory ever got as extensive a run as Lyon, which is why he sits on top of the pile of offspinners for Australia in total wickets. He should be at the point where he’s a senior player in the team and able to become more and more consistent with his performances by now. He’s not a young spinner still finding his way anymore.

        Lyon definitely has plenty to offer. If he can just work out some way to make the batsmen a bit more uncertain about what the ball is going to do when it pitches, and can get just a little more consistent in pitching the ball well, then he could be a very effective test spin bowler.

        • Roar Rookie

          November 28th 2016 @ 11:42am
          JamesH said | November 28th 2016 @ 11:42am | ! Report

          I went back and watched the Duminy dismissal again – perhaps ‘skidded on’ was a bit of an exaggeration, but it clearly turned and bounced less than most of the balls he was bowling. Just compare it to those last few balls of the day to de kock. Poor shot, yes, but it was definitely a variation from his stock ball. Credit where credit is due.

          Lyon has had a decent run in the side (don’t forget he was in and out of the team until a few years ago) but at 29 he is definitely still a young spinner. Greats like Warne, McGill, Murali, Herath and Swann all produced their best cricket from 30 onward. Swann wasn’t actually picked until he was Lyon’s current age and even Ashwin (30) has only recently stepped up to the elite level. There are very few spinners who hit their prime pre-30 because the art has such a steep learning curve.

          In short: yeah, Lyon still has work to do but ditching him now would be an utter waste. I rate O’Keefe too and he’s been very unlucky (particularly in 2013 when Agar was picked) but it worries me that a spinner is breaking down with leg injuries.

    • November 28th 2016 @ 10:22am
      bearfax said | November 28th 2016 @ 10:22am | ! Report

      I’m not going to get into an argument about Lyon’s ineffectiveness, because he is a good spin bowler. My only argument is that there is a far better spin bowler who has been sitting on the sidelines taking wickets in first class cricket at a rate even Warne and Benaud could not achieve. Its like picking Klinger and keeping Smith on the side lines. Klinger is a good batsman, but…

      SOK. I say no more..

      • Roar Guru

        November 28th 2016 @ 11:15am
        Chris Kettlewell said | November 28th 2016 @ 11:15am | ! Report

        And I’m pretty sure SOK was due to play in the Adelaide test had he not picked up a slight injury in the Shield match.

        • November 28th 2016 @ 10:12pm
          Ches said | November 28th 2016 @ 10:12pm | ! Report

          The only real advantage (besides the obvious one on direction of turn) SOK has on Lyon is his batting. Expect similar results in the stats to Lyon on bowling. SOK is more aggressive but very thin skinned compared to Lyon which could be a problem.

          • November 28th 2016 @ 11:02pm
            bearfax said | November 28th 2016 @ 11:02pm | ! Report

            Ches if you are going to ignore SOKs bowling averages, then you may as well ignore that of Smith, Warner, Starc, Hazlewood, and even Warne and Benaud etc etc etc. SOK averages 23.64 compared to Lyon 37.38. I dont know about you but that seems a mighty large difference in wicket taking. And both have been playing for years so it cant just be an aberration. SOK takes wickets 63% more regularly than Lyon and twice as productively as most other contenders. Batting is just an extra benefit. Its his bowling that makes him so much more effective.

            • November 28th 2016 @ 11:44pm
              Don Freo said | November 28th 2016 @ 11:44pm | ! Report

              Not sure about those numbers, Bear.

              SOK has a Test bowling average of 35.
              Gazza has an average of 33.

              The low one is better than the high one.

              • November 29th 2016 @ 6:41am
                bearfax said | November 29th 2016 @ 6:41am | ! Report

                Ho ho ho. Enjoy your bit of fun there Don. To be far more accurate old mate you really have to compare test averages in games they played together. There were only three and O’Keefe’s average was 36.6. Meanwhile for those matches Lyon’s average was 46. Ho hum.

              • November 29th 2016 @ 9:25am
                Don Freo said | November 29th 2016 @ 9:25am | ! Report

                Not so. Remember in those games, Haddin missed catches off Lyon.

                As you always argue…you can only go on averages. All Test games would give a better idea. Unlike you to cherry pick.

              • November 29th 2016 @ 11:34am
                bearfax said | November 29th 2016 @ 11:34am | ! Report

                Always looking for an out arent you Don. That happens all the time and you know it. You just notice it with one player because … well because that’s just you.

          • November 28th 2016 @ 11:45pm
            Don Freo said | November 28th 2016 @ 11:45pm | ! Report

            Ches, SOK’s Test batting average is only 11. Lyon’s is 13. 13 is better.

            SOK is a Shield player. He is out of his depth at the next level.

            • Roar Guru

              November 29th 2016 @ 10:17am
              Chris Kettlewell said | November 29th 2016 @ 10:17am | ! Report

              The Shield is all we have to groom players for the next level. So why would you say that because someone is a Shield player they are out of their depth at the next level? Of even worse, if the best shield player is out of their depth at the next level, then I guess all of them are.

              SOK has hardly had any opportunity to show himself at test level. 3 tests in total. And you know what, you quote his stats and compare to overall stats of Lyon, but if you look at the particular tests:

              – in the UAE test, he took 2/107 in the first innings while Lyon took 2/147 as Pakistan made 454, then in their second innings they were 2/286 and SOK took both those wickets. 4 for the match was the best haul of all the Aussie bowlers.

              – In the rain effected SCG test against the West Indies, Lyon took 3/120 in the WI only innings, SOK took 3/63. Again, the best bowling figures of any of the Aussie bowlers in the innings.

              – In the first Sri Lankan test – before SOK got injured – he took 2/32 in the first innings where all Aussie bowlers did well and rolled them for 117. Lyon had a good innings there taking 3/12. In the second innings SOK had 1/42 before getting injured, at a good 2.5 economy rate. Lyon finished with 2/108, going at 4 rpo.

              So he’s played 3 tests and pretty much been Australia’s best bowler in 2 of them and as good as anyone in the third. Hardly a sign of someone out of his depth at the next level.

              • November 29th 2016 @ 11:04am
                Don Freo said | November 29th 2016 @ 11:04am | ! Report

                I know all that. My comments are simply a push back against all those who want Lyon out despite his wonderful career.

                You don’t drop Lyon just because you are bored with him. He keeps performing.

              • Roar Guru

                November 29th 2016 @ 12:44pm
                Chris Kettlewell said | November 29th 2016 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

                Don, nobody is suggesting dropping Lyon because we are bored with him. The issue is that he doesn’t keep performing. He regularly struggles to have any real impact, even in spin friendly conditions. In all the matches he’s played he has only bowled Australia to victory in the fourth innings once. Most of the time he’s struggled for impact and the fast bowlers have had to take most of the wickets in the fourth innings even when the conditions have suited spin more than pace.

              • November 29th 2016 @ 12:50pm
                Don Freo said | November 29th 2016 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

                That’s because he usually puts us in a winning position through his first innings performances.

                After all, he averages close to 4 wickets a match.

              • November 29th 2016 @ 1:14pm
                George said | November 29th 2016 @ 1:14pm | ! Report

                Except when he doesn’t perform.

    • November 28th 2016 @ 8:21pm
      armchair expert said | November 28th 2016 @ 8:21pm | ! Report

      Don’t forget Warne has a vested interest in Lyon, it was him and his mate Berry, Lyon’s SA coach at the time who lobbied the Australian selectors via Clarke to select him prematurely. After the screw up with the Beer recommendation, Warne is hoping Lyon can help him save face. Warne also has a grudge against another certain spinner but I won’t go there.

      • November 28th 2016 @ 11:49pm
        Don Freo said | November 28th 2016 @ 11:49pm | ! Report

        217 wickets is going a long way towards saving Warnie’s face…although Lyon has succeeded over such a long period now and Warnie’s face has changed that many times, Gazza doesn’t know which face he is saving any more.

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