With Aaron Finch already locked into one opening batting berth, the selectors have David Warner and Usman Khajawa to pick from as the skipper’s partner.
It had been 288 days since Australia won a Test match – the 118-run defeat of South Africa at Durban, with Steve Smith at the helm.
Since then, with Smith still skipper, Australia lost by six wickets and 322 at Port Elizabeth, and then there was Cape Town.
Tim Paine took over the captaincy when Smith was suspended for 12 months, copping a 492 drubbing first up at Johannesburg. This was followed by an honourable draw against Pakistan in Dubai, before a 373-run hammering by Pakistan at Abu Dhabi, and a 31-run loss to India at Adelaide.
Throughout that period of pain, humiliation, and dropping to fifth in the ICC rankings, there was one rock – Nathan Lyon.
Others had odd moments of success with bat and ball, but Lyon was the go-to man – Test after Test after Test.
When Paine won the toss in Perth, Lyon had bowled 393.3 overs, 83 maidens and had captured 40 wickets for 1231 at 30.77 apiece in seven Tests.
Only the most devoted cricket tragics gave Australia the ghost of a chance as the fifth-ranked nation, with no Smith or David Warner – ranked three and six in the world batting rankings respectively – to take a Test off the top-ranked Indians at full strength.
Yet, largely thanks to Lyon, India has lost 40 wickets for 980 in the first two Tests, while the brittle Australian batting order has edged ahead with 40 wickets for 1095.
During the series, Lyon has dismissed the undisputed world number one batsman, Virat Kohli, for the seventh time – twice more than England’s legendary opening bowlers Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, with five each.
Lyon has only played against Kohli 31 times, while Anderson and Broad have faced off 35 times apiece.
So Lyon has come a long way since his first-class debut for South Australia, against the West at the WACA in 2011, where he grabbed 4-81 off 26 and 2-119 off 40.
Playing against him was Marcus Harris – little did they know they would be Australian teammates seven years later.
In Perth, Lyon passed through the 500 first-class wicket barrier in 141 games to average 34.18.
At 31, he won’t get near Shane Warne’s 1319 wickets at 26.11 from 301 games, nor Richie Benaud’s 945 at 24.73 from 259, or Dennis Lillee’s 882 at 23.46 from 198.
But Craig McDermott, Jeff Thomson, and Alan Davidson are in Lyon’s crosshairs.
McDermott has captured 677 wickets at 28.10 from 174, Thomson 675 at 25.46 from 187, and Davidson 672 at 20.90 from 193.
It would be fairer to compare Lyon with the most successful Australian offies.
Ashley Mallett is the benchmark, with 693 wickets at 26.27 from 183, ahead of Ian Johnson’s 619 at 23.30 from 189.
Then it’s Lyon, ahead of Tim May’s 431 at 35.81 from 141, Bruce Yardley’s 344 at 28.19 from 105, and Tom Veivers’ 191 at 38.70 from 106.
But Lyon’s next target is to win this series and get his 334 Test wickets – closer to Dennis Lillee’s 355, to become Australia’s third highest wicket-taker.
Whatever happens, Nathan Lyon is a priceless asset through good and bad times.