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Lies, damn lies and statistics: The rise of Nathan Lyon

Nathan Lyon celebrates after taking a wicket. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Roar Guru
6th March, 2017
19

“Nathan Lyon is the greatest Australian bowler to have played against India.” As I read those words in a text message I received from a friend, I was convinced this was more useless banter talking up the heroics of our latest Aussie cult hero.

But lo and behold this was pure statistical fact. The type of fact that goes into history books and cannot be disputed for the rest of time (at least until the record is broken). The type of fact that various sports trivia shows will be using for decades.

When listing bowlers by wickets taken against India – Nathan Lyon is king of the hill.

Prior to Saturday, when looking at the statistics of bowlers who have played in India-Australia Test series, the first seven positions (in order of wickets taken) were occupied by Indian players. The list was headed by champion leg-spinner Anil Kumble (111 wickets) followed by Harbajan Singh (95 wickets).

The highest Australian bowler on the list is now ‘Garry’ Lyon (fifth overall) but prior to yesterday’s brilliance, the most successful bowler was Brett Lee. Other greats such as Glenn McGrath (12th) and Shane Warne (16th) were lower than expected.

I was staggered by Warne’s poor record against India. He played 14 Tests and took 43 wickets at an average of 47.19. Contrast this with his record against England (195 wickets at 23.26) or even Sri Lanka (59 wickets at 25.54).

Shane Warne

But is it enough to just examine a single parameter?

A deeper analysis requires a look at bowler averages (runs conceded/wickets), strike rates (number of balls bowled per wicket) and economy rates (runs conceded per over).

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Richie Benaud’s record is simply outstanding. He played only eight Tests, taking 52 wickets at an excellent average of 18.38 (strike rate 56.79) with a miserly economy rate of 1.94.

This is where I suspected Lyon’s record wicket haul could be put under scrutiny. But to my surprise his average was 30.62 at a strike rate of 50.95 – numbers most spinners would be pleased with. His economy rate is on the higher end of the spectrum at 3.61.

Lyon’s resurgence is a great Australian sporting story. Following on from Warne was never going to be an easy task and he was often derided for his inconsistent and lacklustre performances; the best of a mediocre spinning group. But as he outlined in the post-stumps interview, he has continued to work very hard and is finally beginning to reap the fruits of his labour.

Nathan Lyon is Australia’s greatest ever bowler against India. A title that he is worthy of and one that holds up even when taking a deeper look at the statistics.

An acknowledgment to my friend Bill Fuller – whose ideas and useless banter formed the basis for this article. Statistics were taken HowStat.