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Nathan Lyon's limited-overs shunning must stop

Nathan Lyon has a chance to stake a claim for regular ODI selection. (AFP / Jekesai Nijikizana)
Expert
17th December, 2015
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2051 Reads

Nathan Lyon has played 50 Tests for Australia, yet just eight ODIs and not a single Twenty20.

When you consider he made his name as a short-form player, that is strange. When you consider that, for years now, spin bowling has been Australia’s biggest weakness in ODIs and T20, that is really strange.

When you consider that Lyon bowled well in his limited ODI appearances and has a great T20 domestic record, that is downright bizarre.

The likes of Xavier Doherty, James Muirhead, Fawad Ahmed, Ashton Agar and Cameron Boyce all, at various times, have been offered limited-overs opportunities ahead of Lyon.

The selectors have appeared keen to keep Lyon as a long-form-only international player in an effort to aid his development as a Test bowler. It seems they have been concerned that exposure to the attacking batsmanship of the shorter formats could turn Lyon into a more defensive bowler with a flatter trajectory.

Early in his career, as he tried to find his way in Test cricket with minimal first-class experience, there was some logic to such a cautious approach. But surely now, with 175 Test wickets under his belt, Lyon’s apprenticeship is over and there is no need to quarantine him from limited-overs cricket.

Last year, as Australia prepared for the 2015 World Cup, the selectors finally gave Lyon a decent run in the ODI side.

Picked ahead of Doherty, Lyon was given a run of six matches and returned 10 wickets at 25. With the white ball, the off-spinner produced the same tantalising loop, deceptive drop and surprising bounce which have made him a valuable Test tweaker.

Crucially, he showed the ability to slow the run rate while remaining a wicket-taking threat, a balancing act which Doherty long has struggled to achieve.

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While Doherty is capable of bowling tight spells, he rarely looks dangerous, particularly against world-class batsmen. This is why, despite having a good economy rate of 4.77 across his 60 ODIs, Doherty has an awful bowling average of 40.

Doherty’s accuracy does not cover for the fact that he rarely deceives batsmen through the air or off the pitch.

Despite averaging 25 across those six ODIs last year, Lyon was promptly overlooked for the World Cup in favour of Doherty, who had been in horrendous touch for Australia, having taken eight wickets at 77 in his previous 15 matches.

Selector Rod Marsh at the time said Lyon’s omission had been down to concerns he would struggle with the fielding restrictions in the ODI format.

Meanwhile, Australia’s lack of confidence in Doherty meant he only played one game in the World Cup, during which he was smashed by Sri Lanka, returning 0-60 from seven overs.

It seems ridiculous Doherty could ever again be picked ahead of Lyon for Australia. Lyon’s former skipper Michael Clarke wrote in his News Limited column last week that he was shocked Lyon had not been offered more chances in coloured clothing for Australia.

The selectors must banish Lyon’s Test-only status and seriously consider picking him as one of their two specialist spinners for March’s World T20 in India.

Queensland wrist spinner Cameron Boyce is Australia’s incumbent T20 spinner and deserves that status after some attractive performances.

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Lyon shapes as a fine second option on Indian tracks, which undoubtedly will assist spinners. He has a chance to press his case in the Big Bash League, after being released from the Test squad to play a couple of matches for the Sydney Sixers.

In the BBL opener he took 1-28 from four overs while operating with lovely shape.

Unless other spinners turn in impossible-to-ignore performances in this BBL, Lyon should be in Australia’s World T20 squad.