New Zealand pose a major threat in the upcoming three-Test series but Australia could scarcely be in better shape after off spinner Nathan Lyon regained touch yesterday.
With Australia’s batting line-up looking solid, and their pace attack on song, a return to form for Lyon was the key missing piece for the home side.
The veteran tweaker yesterday ended his lean trot by snaring 5-69 as he bowled with a degree of loop and drift that had been absent in recent Tests.
Up until yesterday, Lyon had taken just 13 wickets at 53 in his past six Tests. This form trough could be traced back to early in the Ashes when England changed their batting tactics against Lyon.
The off spinner had, in previous Ashes Tests, consistently troubled the English batsmen by flighting the ball beautifully and getting them caught on the crease, neither back nor forward. After Lyon took nine wickets as Australia won the first Ashes Test England made a concerted effort to start playing him off the back foot more often.
When Lyon tossed the ball up on his usual line and length the English batsmen got deep in their crease to work him for ones and twos. Suddenly, the close in catchers who had been so busy off Lyon’s bowling were taken out of the game, to a degree.
Lyon responded by bowling flatter and straighter. He figured, perhaps, that by doing so he would hurry the batsmen and become a greater LBW threat. Instead, he became far less effective. England had managed to get him to abandon his strengths.
Even in the first Test against Pakistan in Brisbane last week, at one of Lyon’s favourite hunting grounds, the spinner was too flat and too straight too often.
Several of the Pakistan batsmen, perhaps taking their lead from England, sought to play him from deep in their crease as regularly as possible. Then, when he overcorrected, tossing the ball up on a full length, they leaned forward to drive him.
This pattern continued in the first innings at Adelaide, as even the Pakistan tail countered Lyon easily. But yesterday things finally clicked for the veteran.
The loop was back, as tantalising as ever. Just as important was the way in which he consistently located the classic in-between length, which makes batsmen doubt their footwork.
Again and again yesterday Lyon had Pakistan batsmen in two minds due to this length. This prompted them to take some risks, just as opener Shan Masood did when he skipped down the track, tried to loft Lyon down the ground and succeeded only in bunting it straight to mid-off.
Next Asad Shafiq was undone by Lyon’s length. The Pakistani first came forward to a delivery and then quickly tried to rock back, managing only to steer the ball to leg slip.
Then Lyon got the ball to dip sharply on Iftikhar Ahmed, who stretched forward to try to smother this delivery, but ended up nowhere near it.
The ball lifted sharply off the pitch, caught Ahmed’s inside edge and ballooned to short leg. This dismissal was a carbon copy of the way Lyon dislodged English batsmen again and again, until they changed up their tactics in the last Ashes.
Lyon then grabbed two tail end wickets to complete his five-for. Just like the resurgence of his long-time bowling colleague Mitchell Starc, which I wrote about yesterday, Lyon’s return to form could not have come at a better time.
Next week Australia begin a three-Test series against New Zealand who are not just the world’s number two ranked side but also boast a quality batting line-up.
Six of the Kiwi top seven average over 40 in Tests. Lyon has excelled against New Zealand in the past, taking 30 wickets at 22 in Tests.
So the men from across the Tasman won’t have been pleased to see him bounce back in resounding fashion yesterday.