Joe Burns, Kurtis Patterson and Travis Head may have shone in Tests this summer, but their Ashes prospects will be heavily influenced by their performances in the Sheffield Shield, which re-starts tomorrow.
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Australia has always been hailed as the land of Shane Warne and the other spinners such that even phenomenal talents like the legendary Richie Benaud and Stuart MacGill weren’t mentioned in the same breath as the charismatic blonde magician.
Such was the impact Warne made on world and Australian cricket that many a young cricketer aspired to become a leg spinner in the wake of his astounding success. The wrist spinner single-handedly managed to resurrect a dying art and ushered in a new era for the Baggy Greens. Never before had a spinner captured the imagination of the Australian public, and nobody has ever since.
But in recent times a new force has emerged in Australian cricket, one that may very well do for finger spinners what Warne had done for wrist spinners. That man is the wily Nathan Lyon.
Although the off spinner has been around for a while, since 2011, but only recently has he been acknowledged as a special talent around the cricketing globe. Not since Greg Matthews have the men from Down Under had such a matchwinning right-arm orthodox tweaker.
In fact bowlers of Lyon’s breed used to be looked upon as the weak link in an otherwise formidable bowling attack. Men like Tim May, Peter Taylor, Gavin Robertson and Nathan Hauritz were called upon to give the big fast bowlers a break or keep things tight while Shane Warne wreaked havoc at the other end.
Australia finally seemed to have unearthed a successor to Shane Warne and a high-quality off-spinner when Jason Krejza captured eight wickets in an innings on his debut against India in 2008, but that proved to be a false dawn, as inconsistent form and injuries prevented the offie from harnessing his true potential.
The Australians continued their search in vain until Lyon made his debut for them in 2011 against Sri Lanka. He got a wicket with his first ball in Test cricket, that of the legendary Kumar Sangakkara, and from then on there was no turning back.
He was nicknamed ‘GOAT’ (greatest of all time) by his teammates when he overtook Hugh Trumble’s 141 wickets in 2015 to become the highest wicket-taker for an Australian off spinner.
But it is not for his returns against the Englishmen, South Africans or New Zealanders that his talent have come to be finally recognised; it is for his unparalleled success against Subcontinent teams, especially the masters of playing spin bowling, India, that has seen him heralded as the best off spinner in the world.
Lyon’s 19 wickets in three Tests in the 2014-15 series against India was followed up by his career-best figures of 8-50 at Bangalore in 2017. Before the start of the current edition of The Australia vs India series he had 64 wickets against the Asian powerhouse at a healthy average of around 30 and had played a pivotal role in swinging matches in his team’s favour. His flight and bounce have consistently troubled India, and that’s what has made everyone sit up and take notice.
In the current series against the Indians he’s managed to skittle them out in the second innings at Adelaide with a return of six wickets just as they threatened to run away with the match.
At the all-new Perth Stadium, where the pitch was tailor-made for the pacemen to run through the tourists, it was Lyon who was again the wrecker-in-chief with a haul of five first-innings wickets. Even Indian skipper Virat Kohli, who crafted a masterful century, was unable to dominate the 31-year-old.
Again, today, when India looked to rebuild their second innings after early setbacks, he snared the two big wickets of Indian captain Kohli and the well-set Murali Vijay to leave Australia at the doorstep of victory.
Australia had placed their hope of winning the series in their tremendous fast bowling unit, but it was the man they call ‘Garry’ who may well be the one who helps the men from Down Under reclaim The Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
All Hail Nathan the Lyonheart!