ASHES: Talking points from Melbourne day three

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    Mitchell Johnson stares down Kevin Pietersen. (AFP PHOTO/Mal Fairclough)

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    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
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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    The Crowd Says (116)

    • December 28th 2013 @ 7:34pm
      Darren said | December 28th 2013 @ 7:34pm | ! Report

      Thanks Ronan following from Vietnam catching the odd ball here and there. Great to have the wrap up of each day. Agree Lyon is very underrated – he is now an accomplished test cricketer. From along way away it seems that 10th wicket partnership this morning was important (kudos to Lyon again) to get momentum back to Australia. With 38 degrees today the pitch should play a bit quicker tomorrow so I’ll back the Aussies.

      • Columnist

        December 28th 2013 @ 8:32pm
        Ronan O'Connell said | December 28th 2013 @ 8:32pm | ! Report

        No worries Darren, just got back from a tour of Vietnam myself, wonderful place. I agree the Haddin-Lyon 40-run stand this morning was definitely a turning point.

    • December 28th 2013 @ 7:35pm
      Johnno said | December 28th 2013 @ 7:35pm | ! Report

      Most underrated cricketers, Andy Roberts, Paul Rieffal, Brad Hodge, Ganguly,Larry Gomes,Lance Gibbs,Jack Russell,Craig Matthews,Chris Cairns,Laxman, the Asian Bradman Zaheer Abbhas,Terry Alderman, Merv Hughes,Tim May, and now Nathan Lyon. Maybe Nathan Lyon is the most underrated cricketer in the last 50 years.

      • Columnist

        December 28th 2013 @ 8:39pm
        Ronan O'Connell said | December 28th 2013 @ 8:39pm | ! Report

        That’s a good list Johnno. Cairns is an interesting one in that his career record is better than Flintoff’s yet he doesn’t get lionised anything like Flintoff.

        • December 29th 2013 @ 1:29am
          Aakash b said | December 29th 2013 @ 1:29am | ! Report

          Add mohd.azharuddin to the list!

      • December 29th 2013 @ 9:56am
        Lancey5times said | December 29th 2013 @ 9:56am | ! Report

        How was Laxman underrated Johnno? And I must disagree with you on Tim May. Lyon will continue to prove how rubbish May was. Without Warne at the other end he would barely have got a wicket. Tuffers was an offie that was underrated

        • December 29th 2013 @ 9:59am
          Johnno said | December 29th 2013 @ 9:59am | ! Report

          5/9 at the Adelaide Oval 1992/93, with a young Warne at the other end, Warne barely bowled in that innings in Adelaide, in that massive world championship like Test match vs the windies, wow Laney5times May must be rubbish with figures like that.

          • Columnist

            December 29th 2013 @ 11:20am
            Ronan O'Connell said | December 29th 2013 @ 11:20am | ! Report

            Laxman definitely is not underrated. He gets huge props and is lumped in with Dravid, Tendulkar and Sehwag when his record – 17 tons in 134 Tests – is not in their class.

          • December 29th 2013 @ 1:01pm
            Lancey5times said | December 29th 2013 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

            75 wickets at well over 30 and a couple of flash in the pan Michelles. Averaged 3 wickets a test when the Australian pitches were built to turn on the east coast in particular to benefit one SK Warne. One innings doesn’t make a bowler Johnno. If that was the case Michael Clarke and Jason Krejza would be vying for the title of the best off spinner we have ever produced.

    • December 28th 2013 @ 7:40pm
      marty said | December 28th 2013 @ 7:40pm | ! Report

      Another question is will kevin pietersens ego end his test career? A great batsman this ashes series he is playing like a douche. Also i agree nathan lyon is world class but extremely underrated

    • December 28th 2013 @ 7:50pm
      Plainsman said | December 28th 2013 @ 7:50pm | ! Report

      Agree that Nathan Lyon has been underrated and I have been guilty myself. My question is what to do about George Bailey? I am not convinced he is test material and I think a high performing shield player needs to be brought in as preparation for South Africa

      • December 28th 2013 @ 7:52pm
        Johnno said | December 28th 2013 @ 7:52pm | ! Report

        Doolan in and Phil Hughes, out Bailey and Watto.

        • December 28th 2013 @ 8:02pm
          Tony Tea said | December 28th 2013 @ 8:02pm | ! Report

          • Columnist

            December 28th 2013 @ 8:56pm
            Ronan O'Connell said | December 28th 2013 @ 8:56pm | ! Report

            Doolan has been solid but unspectacular this summer. I’d still be strongly considering him for the SA tour.

            • December 28th 2013 @ 11:52pm
              Nathan said | December 28th 2013 @ 11:52pm | ! Report

              Wouldn’t take Doolan to SA on the back of a seriously average summer and a FC average of 37. Not much room for vast improvement on that at the age of 38.
              Would much rather take any of Hughes, Wade (specialist bat), Ben Dunk or even Joe Burns.
              Particularly Hughes. Australian cricket has been seriously unkind to Phil Hughes. Rescued us at Trent Bridge and dropped 2 Tests later, shuffled around the order constantly, expected to succeed with his teammates falling around him and the squad in a state of disunity..
              Had he batted in this series he’d have had a very good summer, Phil Hughes.

              • December 29th 2013 @ 12:22am
                Nathan said | December 29th 2013 @ 12:22am | ! Report

                the age of 28, even

              • Columnist

                December 29th 2013 @ 1:26am
                Ronan O'Connell said | December 29th 2013 @ 1:26am | ! Report

                Nathan you say you wouldn’t pick Doolan because he only averages 38 at FC level yet you would pick Ben Dunk (who averages 28)?

                Wade, meanwhile, has averaged 33 with the bat this Shield season. If he wants to get picked as a specialist bat he needs to shed the gloves and prove he can make runs under that pressure.

                Succeeding as a specialist bat is a lot different to making runs when you also have your keeping to fall back on.

              • December 29th 2013 @ 2:46pm
                Lancey5times said | December 29th 2013 @ 2:46pm | ! Report

                Wonderful call on Ben Dunk. He hit a couple of sixes last night so let’s overlook the fact he can’t make his Shield side. Get that man on a plane to Durban.

                I don’t know you aside from this comment Nathan so I’m gonna assume you’re a smart guy and this is out of character.

        • December 28th 2013 @ 9:52pm
          Train Without A Station said | December 28th 2013 @ 9:52pm | ! Report

          So Johnno you think we should dump one of the best 6 (Watson) FC batsmen in aus for Doolan who is not even in the top 10. And then what when like 95% of all other players, his test performances are below his FC ones and you have dropped an all rounder with the 3rd best test batting average in the team who also has proven to take key wickets, for a bloke that ends up averaging a tick over 30?

          • Columnist

            December 28th 2013 @ 10:08pm
            Ronan O'Connell said | December 28th 2013 @ 10:08pm | ! Report

            It is a fine balance when it comes to Watto’s place. Australia’s quicks have driven their success this summer and his role amid that is underappreciated.

            When the batsman have got on top Clarke has often brought on Watto who has a remarkable ability to bowl maidens. That frugality has then repeatedly led to reckless strokes which broke key partnerships.

          • December 28th 2013 @ 10:46pm
            Ken said | December 28th 2013 @ 10:46pm | ! Report

            That about sums it up. Watson polarises people but really, when he’s fit for batting and bowling he’s an automatic selection. He’s a very capable bowler and he could be selected on his batting alone (although he’d lose that ‘automatic selection’ rating if he couldn’t bowl).

            • December 28th 2013 @ 11:24pm
              Train Without A Station said | December 28th 2013 @ 11:24pm | ! Report

              The simple fact is nobody other than Hughes has done better than Watson at FC level so what indication is there they would do any better at test level?

              Bailey is on thin ice but Watson is safe by virtue of better performances than Rogers and Smith. Yes people just dislike him, but it’s about performances, not mug punters biased views.

              • Columnist

                December 28th 2013 @ 11:51pm
                Ronan O'Connell said | December 28th 2013 @ 11:51pm | ! Report

                It is ironic that Watto has scored as many tons in his last 5 Tests as he did in 44 Tests previous to that yet his position in the side is subject to as much conjecture as ever.

    • December 28th 2013 @ 7:53pm
      Adsa said | December 28th 2013 @ 7:53pm | ! Report

      poms done in a day, weak as!.

    • December 28th 2013 @ 7:54pm
      Tony Tea said | December 28th 2013 @ 7:54pm | ! Report

      Which team is ahead in this Test?

      Australia is chasing a moderate total batting last… shudder.

      • December 28th 2013 @ 8:56pm
        Gav said | December 28th 2013 @ 8:56pm | ! Report

        Can’t take credit for this research, but if Matt is right, I’d suggest the odds should be comfortably in England favour!
        Having said that, I recon our guys will be up for it!

        “For reference. Not to mention there’s only 10 successful run chases over 300 in history worldwide.

        Highest 4th innings chase at MCG
        332/7 by England v Australia, December 1928.
        298/4 by England v Australia, March 1895.
        297/4 by South Africa v Australia, February 1953.
        287/5 by Australia v England, March 1929.
        282/9 by England v Australia, January 1908.
        260/9 by West Indie v Australia, December 1951.
        258/8 by Australia v West Indies, February 1961.
        237/3 by England v Australia, December 1962.
        219/2 by England v Australia, December 1911.
        211/2 by Australia v England, February 1921.
        197/2 by Australia v England, December 1990.”

        • Columnist

          December 28th 2013 @ 10:11pm
          Ronan O'Connell said | December 28th 2013 @ 10:11pm | ! Report

          So using those stats you could also say that, “No team has chased this many runs at the MCG for 51 years”.

          • December 28th 2013 @ 11:05pm
            brian said | December 28th 2013 @ 11:05pm | ! Report

            The Saffers were one wicket down when they got the 183 in 2008. They could have cantered to 231

            • December 29th 2013 @ 3:36am
              Matt said | December 29th 2013 @ 3:36am | ! Report

              This. Looking at the record chases, they got home easily most of the time. You either fall short and lose or you bat well and comfortably win.

              Thankfully England collapsed, 225 is a much more gettable target than 300.

              All it takes is one good partnership, 100 odd runs or so, and they can make it despite how hard history suggests it is achieve.

              Looking forward to tomorrow’s play!

              • Columnist

                December 29th 2013 @ 11:22am
                Ronan O'Connell said | December 29th 2013 @ 11:22am | ! Report

                In an case I’ve got a feeling we’re going to get a pretty exciting finish today for once.

        • Roar Guru

          December 29th 2013 @ 9:16am
          The Bush said | December 29th 2013 @ 9:16am | ! Report

          I am not sure where the belief that there has only been 10 successful run chases above 300 comes from, but there has been more like 25 –

          West Indies 418/7 128.5 Australia Antigua May 2003
          South Africa 414/4 119.2 Australia Perth Dec 2008
          India 406/4 147.0 West Indies Trinidad Apr 1976
          Australia 404/3 114.1 England Leeds Jul 1948
          India 387/4 98.3 England Chennai Dec 2008
          Australia 369/6 113.5 Pakistan Hobart Nov 1999
          Australia 362/7 101.0 West Indies Guyana Mar 1978
          Sri Lanka 352/9 113.3 South Africa Colombo Aug 2006
          West Indies 348/5 68.0×8 New Zealand Auckland Feb 1969
          West Indies 344/1 66.1 England Lord’s Jun 1984
          Australia 342/8 87.2×8 India Perth Dec 1977
          South Africa 340/5 104.5 Australia Durban Mar 2002
          Australia 336/5 123.6×8 South Africa Durban Jan 1950
          Australia 334/6 79.1 South Africa Cape Town Mar 2002
          England 332/7 159.5 Australia Melbourne Dec 1928
          Sri Lanka 326/7 113.5 Zimbabwe Colombo Jan 1998
          New Zealand 324/5 107.0 Pakistan Christchurch Feb 1994
          West Indies 317/2 93.1 Pakistan Guyana Mar 1958
          New Zealand 317/7 137.5 Bangladesh Chittagong Oct 2008
          Australia 315/6 134.0 England Adelaide Jan 1902
          Pakistan 315/9 106.1 Australia Karachi Sep 1994
          England 315/4 73.2 Australia Leeds Aug 2001
          West Indies 311/9 120.1 Australia Barbados Mar 1999
          Australia 310/8 86.5 South Africa Johannesburg Nov 2011
          England 307/6 146.4 New Zealand Christchruch Feb 1997
          West Indies 307/7 107.7 Bangladesh Fatullah Apr 2006

          I suspect it comes from the fact that for some reason ESPN only lists 10; that is simply not right.

          On the Channel 9 coverage yesterday they showed about 12 alone that were more than 340.

          • Roar Guru

            December 29th 2013 @ 9:25am
            JGK said | December 29th 2013 @ 9:25am | ! Report

            Some painful memories in there.

            • Roar Guru

              December 29th 2013 @ 9:48am
              The Bush said | December 29th 2013 @ 9:48am | ! Report

              I think it’s a testiment to how hard we play the game that we’ve been on the wrong end of so many losses – you’ll note how many of those involved out champion team of 95-05 and no one could say they didn’t have talent/skill etc. You gotta be in it to loss it sometimes!

              • Columnist

                December 29th 2013 @ 11:24am
                Ronan O'Connell said | December 29th 2013 @ 11:24am | ! Report

                “Australia 404/3 114.1 England Leeds Jul 1948”

                Geez that was good going!

              • Roar Guru

                December 29th 2013 @ 11:39am
                The Bush said | December 29th 2013 @ 11:39am | ! Report


                If you look at that list, you’ll see the following (won/loss):
                Australia (8/7)
                West Indies (6/2)
                England (3/4)
                Sri Lanka (2/0)
                India (2/1)
                New Zealand (2/2)
                South Africa (2/4)
                Pakistan (1/3)
                Zimbabwe (0/1)
                Bangladesh (0/2)

                What these stats show is that Australia has consistently been a strong team (remember you have to have played well to set up a big chase), whilst the West Indies had a period of success, but have otherwise been poor (can’t even set up big run chases to lose) and South Africa, though they’ve given us to memorable defeats, come across as chokers (and are on the wrong side of the ledger against us with us having two (2) wins over them on that list).

          • December 29th 2013 @ 9:40am
            Matt said | December 29th 2013 @ 9:40am | ! Report

            Might not be complete then.

            25 is still low considering all of the games that have been played for over a century.

            However it’s all theoretical now, as 225 (now 195 to go) is a much lower target. It has more to do with how well or not both teams play.

            • Roar Guru

              December 29th 2013 @ 9:54am
              The Bush said | December 29th 2013 @ 9:54am | ! Report

              Yeah I saw that site when I looked this up. My friend then listed two straight up not on that list so I did more research and found a far more complete list.

              I agree that 25 in the history of cricket isn’t many, but when you consider how many games are draws with 4th innings totals above 300, it’s not as extreme as some make out; it’s just bloody tough!

              Whilst I agree it’s a little moot, this current Australian team is the pinnicle of collapsing lineups so anything can happen today!

      • December 29th 2013 @ 10:28am
        Bayman said | December 29th 2013 @ 10:28am | ! Report

        ……I confess the reality of your comment also crossed my mind when Australia began its run chase yesterday, and it will continue to jump in and out of my mind until the job is done.

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