Australia should not pick Nathan Lyon to give themselves the best chance of winning the third Ashes Test, beginning on Thursday.
With uncertainty around Steve Smith’s availability and England chasing a victory, it’s time for Australia to make a big move in a bid to retain the valuable urn with two matches to spare.
Lyon’s heroics to put Australia 1-0 up in the series were backed up with an unspectacular performance in the second Test at Lord’s.
In the second innings in particular, the 31-year-old was able to draw the edge of Ben Stokes’ bat a few times, but his dangerous deliveries were few and far between, which allowed the opposition batsmen to attack when they saw fit.
In the last five Test matches played at Headingley, spin bowlers have produced a combined total of 28 wickets for 1025 runs off 359.2 overs – an average of 36.60 runs per wicket, with an economy rate of 2.85 runs per over.
The only two outstanding performances by spinners came in 2014 and 2015 – Rangana Herath’s 3/59 off 42 overs and Mark Craig’s 5/121 off 57.5 overs respectively – and they have proven to be outliers in recent history.
While Headingley tends to produce good all-round conditions for all disciplines, the traditional, one-dimensional style of spin bowling has produced indifference.
What Herath and Craig had in common was the willingness to bowl slowly (around 80 kilometres per hour) with regularity, forcing the batsmen to wait, and an ability to produce effective change-ups.
As good as Lyon has become, being one of the most accurate and reliable spin bowlers in modern history, he has often been unwilling to bring his pace down below 88 kilometres per hour, preferring to bowl his quick off spin and utilising natural variation in the pitch rather than his own.
The concern at Headingley, however, is that the track won’t necessarily break up as easily or as quickly as Lyon will hope in order for him to have an impact.
This is why Australia can afford to take advantage of this rare opportunity to go into a Test match without a recognised spin bowler.
Pending availability, Australia can head into the third Test with a four-man pace attack and have the better-than-average option of bowling Steve Smith or Marnus Labuschagne, too.
Both players are good leg spinners, with the latter more than likely to feature in the upcoming Test after bowling a lot over the county season.
With the forecast for Headingley appearing to be overcast and humid, part-time spinners are likely to be just as effective with the ball with more weapons to their overall arsenal than Lyon, or Leach for England.
Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson should come in for Lyon and Peter Siddle when the teams are announced on Thursday, with Australia taking on Jofra Archer’s genuine pace with its own brigade.
If Smith is ruled out, it makes even more sense for Australia to make these two changes, boosting their batting stocks and upping the ante with the ball.
Tim Paine showed in the second Test that Australia are more than happy to be tactically aggressive by bowling first and trying to make something of the shortened game.
If there is to be a legacy that comes out of this Ashes series for Australia, it should be that the team is looking to win constantly, rather than settling for anything less.
Australia can wrap up the Ashes by going all-out with pace.
Nathan Lyon might be Australia’s best bowler of the past few years, but leaving him out is the wildcard move that can bring the country great success.