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A pair of GOATs, and a couple of bridesmaids

Nathan Lyon celebrates after taking a wicket. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Roar Guru
28th July, 2016
8

The current Test series in Sri Lanka has brought together Australia’s most successful finger spinner, Nathan Lyon, with the man who has been the bridesmaid for many years, Stephen O’Keefe.

Over the Australian summer a few pundits and teammates started referring to Lyon as the Greatest of All Time, having surpassed Hugh Trumble’s longstanding record of 141 wickets.

This pairing has a few parallels to another GOAT, and another bridesmaid.

Shane Warne is the Greatest Of All Time when it comes to Australian spinners, and when it comes to leg spin bowlers the world over.

His record of 708 wickets at 25.41 and a strike rate of 57.4 speaks volumes. Not only did he dominate opposition batting line-ups from all continents, but his legacy has dominated the thinking of selectors and viewing public as to what a spin bowler should be able to achieve.

During his playing days Warne was well-liked within the playing ranks and was viewed as a fiercely loyal and ambitious team man.

Such was his impact as a bowler and teammate that indiscretions such as betting scandals and even a suspension for a doping violation did not hinder his selection. Only recently has the ugly revelation of his longstanding grudge with Steve Waugh taken the shine off his loveable larrikin image.

Stuart MacGill, on the other hand, was a different beast. Coming on the scene when Warne was firmly entrenched in the baggy green, his 208 Test wickets at 29.02 and strike rate of 54.0 shows while he was slightly more expensive than Warne he struck more frequently, which demonstrates an aggressive, attacking, even impatient bowler at the crease.

When the two bowled in tandem, over 16 Tests, it was MacGill who came out on top, with 82 wickets at 22.10 eclipsing Warne’s 74 at 29.56.

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Yet MacGill was always a prickly character and never one to play the system, with a reputation for butting heads with coaches at the Cricket Academy as a teenager, through to refusing to appear in an advertisement for a team sponsor on moral grounds.

His famous line to a grade umpire when handing over his cap “Hold this and count to six. I won’t be saying much else to you all day” may be an urban myth, but it fits with the image of the cricketer who is also credited with “wake me up when it’s time to bowl”.

Who knows how many wickets SCG MacGill may have achieved with more opportunity? One thing is for certain, he was doing it his way or not at all.

This brings us to the current pairing. In Nathan Lyon we have a bowler who was plucked from relative obscurity and has repaid the faith of selectors in spades.

With 195 wickets to date and aged only 28, Lyon is on track to easily surpass 300 wickets. The current leader of the team song after victory, Lyon comes across as a well-liked, easy going teammate – not to mention a tenacious batsman and versatile fielder.

Steven O’Keefe, by contrast, is not famous for being well liked. Rumours of dressing room conflicts have dogged his career at state level, and that reputation has raised questions about his temperament.

Despite being the dominant spinner at state level for a number of years, his non-selection became such an issue that as far back as 2013 he needed NSW selectors as advocates to try to get an answer from the national selection panel about his non-selection.

With his first-class record of 204 wickets at 23.82 he has earned his current selection and on the two occasions he and Lyon have played together at Test level, excluding the current Test, O’Keefe has returned the better match figures.

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Is O’Keefe unlucky that he came along at the same time as Lyon, in the same way that MacGill was unlucky to have come up against Warne? Or is there more to it?

Two likeable bowlers are provided with opportunity and repay the selectors by becoming GOATs, while two bowlers with reputations for difficult personalities look on as bridesmaids, despite bowling figures that suggest opportunity should have been more forthcoming.

Cricket’s a funny game, isn’t it?