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Forget the search for a new Warne and let Lyon roar

Nathan Lyon is unlikely to spin Australia to victory in India - thus, they are unlikely to win in India. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
Roar Pro
12th October, 2013
27

When the time finally came for Shane Warne to announce that he would no longer endure five days of cricket for his country, we as his fondest audience could confess that things wouldn’t be the same.

No longer would Channel Nine’s summer broadcast be synonymous with that iconic phrase: “Bowled Shane.”

Never would we be assured of entertainment from our iconic lair with his incessant banter and quintessential brash approach to a contest.

And it was doubtful we would be able remain tranquil no matter how promising the opposition’s openers had fared against our seam attack, knowing full well that our extroverted genius would cast a spell upon their middle order.

But despite these frightening realisations at the time, it would’ve appeared unfathomable that we would go through a remarkable 16 replacements in the ensuing six years.

Stuart MacGill, Brad Hogg and Bryce McGain were all capable of having lengthy Test careers. They were just crippled by their time of conception, sharing their prime with the eminent Warne and being well past it once he called it a day.

Then came guys like Casson, Krezja and Beer, who were thrust into the international arena with under-qualified resumes on the premise of having ability or receiving a wrap from a reputable source.

Did the selectors honestly think that they would strike gold from one of these experiments? Maybe so.

Casson had a glittering start to his first class career with the Warriors, but by the time he was called up for national service his best performances had seemingly eluded him.

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Krezja was an immensely talented finger spinner who imparts more work on the ball than Southerner did on his slaves, but he has always been far too inconsistent to succeed at Test level.

And Beer had all the physical attributes to become a sound international cricketer, but with a handful of Shield games behind him and a handful of wickets he would be conceived as moderately underprepared.

The issue, however, is that were the selectors going to pluck a diamond from the rough they would’ve needed to have given their experiments adequate time to glisten in the light. Five Tests between the three of them hardly qualifies for that score.

You can also throw Cameron White and Steven Smith into the mix.

Both were selected primarily as spinners for a number of games, purely on the basis that they resembled Warne with their artificially enhanced blonde hairdos and their style of bowling.

Both will comfortably assert that they are frontline batsmen who send a few leggies down as a sideshow.

In and around these trials came the unluckiest figure in Australian sport since Jane Saville.

Nathan Hauritz has been on the international and domestic scene for seemingly an eternity, debuting for Australia way back in 2002 as a baby-faced teenager. After his early successes he drifted into oblivion, but returned with aplomb in 2008 via an unlikely recall to the Test team.

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From then on, his returns were impressive and consistent, and it appeared that we now had a reliable slow bowling option who could both attack and hold up an end, as his 63 wickets in 17 matches at 35 indicate.

Furthermore, he bolstered our lower order with a tight defence and capable stroke-making ability.

Arguably not as gifted as the others that had come and gone before him, Hauritz appeared to be a thinking cricketer and a man who was firmly in control of his game, understanding his limitations while maximising his weaponry.

He is an off spinner who is very much in the classical mould; not a prodigious turner of the ball, but a bowler who gets his deliveries to hover and curve in the air like a Frisbee nearing the end of its trajectory.

Yet somehow his performances failed to satisfy the Australian selectors and he has been cast adrift, being consigned once again to the lottery of Australian domestic cricket. He is still only 31 and his performances continue to promote his state side and T20 franchise to the top of their respective competitions.

Whether he gets another crack in the green and gold or not appears to be in the hands of serendipity, as his displays are as sound as ever yet evidently not up to the selectors’ standard.

Then came Nathan Lyon, famously fetched from the nation’s capital to ply his trade in the city of parks and churches while watering the grass and preparing highways at the Adelaide Oval to make ends meet.

The wiry, softly spoken groundsman got given his first baggy green after some eye-catching performances in the inaugural Big Bash League.

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Unlike his contemporaries, Lyon was afforded with a prolonged run in the Test team as the selectors rectified the fleeting nature of their previous attempts at replacing Warne.

It helped that Lyon enjoyed immediate success, capturing a five-wicket haul on debut. Had we finally found our answer to the post Warne dynasty?

More importantly, were we once and for all ready to settle for the fact that our blonde bombshell was a one in a million case, who could never be commensurately replaced?

Apparently not. That conviction was confuted when one of Australia’s most ignorant decisions since Pauline Hanson gained access into parliament saw Nathan Lyon was replaced by 19-year-old Ashton Agar in the first Test of the 2013 Ashes series.

Trying to understand this selection is like trying to comprehend ancient Greek while juggling four balls and standing on one leg. It was absurdly ludicrous and whoever was responsible for it should have their citizenship revoked.

Not only was Agar exceedingly underdeveloped as a bowler but this was the biggest possible stage you could introduce him on; the Ashes to cricket is the Hollywood to film, you only get there if you’re at the peak of your powers.

Moreover, Lyon’s showings in the baggy green had been highly commendable, having fulfilled his role at any given opportunity, including nine wickets in his last match against India, the opposition that are as familiar with spin bowling as a carpenter is to his hammer, in their own backyard.

Hitherto he has the record of 85 wickets in 25 games at 33, not too far off the figures of those considered to be the leading slow bowlers of the modern day in Graeme Swann and Saeed Ajmal. Just to throw coffee in the faces of the selectors, he bowled beautifully in the final three Ashes Tests when he was reselected.

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So why then do we continue to foolishly search for the next Shane Warne?

Warne was one of those special characters that you almost regard as bigger than the sport he occupies. A once in a lifetime talent that may never appear again.

In Lyon, we have found a man who can perform his role exceptionally well, getting the ball to go up and down in the air and bite off the surface while holding his nerve and keeping his pace down when aggressive players take him on.

We now have a shrewd captain who has an understanding of the spin bowler’s art and puts his faith in their abilities, to complement our spinner’s wares.

Let’s now give our spinner that sense of security that is required to allow him to truly blossom and ensure his name is read out every time our XI is chosen – provided there are no severe dips in form.

Spin bowling is the toughest art in a complex, multi-faceted game. There is generally only one per side, and every batsman, regardless of what he claims, prefers the ball coming at them at a gentle pace rather than at 90 plus miles an hour at varying heights.

Furthermore, the margin for error is smaller and conditions in every region of the world are stacked against an Australian tweaker.

Yes, subcontinental wickets turn sharper than a teenage boy in the red light district, but whenever has a skinny Anglo-Saxon been comfortable in a climate that resembles a sauna living on a diet that ranges from hot curry to extremely hot curry?

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Both Nathans have done highly credible jobs for this team during a markedly fruitless period of Australian cricket’s history.

Both have the ability to take their games to a further level if given the consistency of selection, and both could easily be part of a world No. 1 side.

Let’s make sure this Nathan gets his chance, and let’s back him for years to come.