‘I think they’re hostile at the best of times.’
Prior to the last Test I hoped Nathan Lyon would have a great series against Pakistan.
In a previous article I wrote: “Nathan Lyon has obviously had a tough time of it with the ball in the latter part of the Ashes series and into the first part of the Australian summer. It’s not that he’s bowling badly, he’s simply not getting any wickets. Hopefully that all changes in Adelaide and he gets five-for.”
Happily, Lyon bowled beautifully and ended up with the excellent figures of 5 for 69 in Pakistan’s second innings.
In the five Tests prior to that Lyon had not been anywhere near as effective as he was. For example, at Edgbaston he took nine English wickets and was instrumental in helping Australia win that first Ashes Test. What happened to his bowling is probably a combination of factors.
English and Pakistani batsmen played him better
Much has been made about how the English in particular played Lyon more off the back foot, using the crease well and milking him for runs. Babar Azam did something similar in his excellent innings in both Brisbane and Adelaide.
Lyon became frustrated
Plan A wasn’t working, so Lyon resorted to Plan B, bowling much flatter and straighter. Shane Warne made the very good point that any spinner should be aiming to get a batsman out from either edge of the bat. This method of bowling more straight took away Lyon’s ability to get the outside edge and focused more on catches in close and/or LBWs.
He hasn’t been helped by injury or pitch conditions
Lyon’s spinning finger was injured in the fourth Ashes Test but he then had to play in the fifth game, which started soon after. That he got through these games still bowling tidily and picking up a few wickets says a lot about his willingness to play through pain.
It’s also safe to say the pitches for the most part have not been exactly what an off spinner would like to see. This factor alone is not the cause of Lyon’s recent wicket drought, but in combination with the other factors mentioned in this article the pitches were certainly a contributing factor.
Things just didn’t go his way
Luck deserted Lyons. Everyone remembers Ben Stokes matchwinning innings at Headingley but few remember the botched DRS review followed up by an umpiring howler that would have seen Stokes LBW to Lyon and Australia winning that Test. In the recent Tests catches just fell out of reach and edges failed to carry, which only led to greater frustration for the bowler.
He has not been helped by his teammates
The first innings of the Adelaide Test probably sums up how a combination of poor fielding and poor captaincy cost him wickets not only in this Tests but in previous matches. Steve Smith was yards too deep at first slip, meaning catches that should have been taken waist-high were half-volleyed. Tim Paine missed a stumping and Marnus Labuschagne muffed a catch in close. Throw in the near misses mentioned in the previous point and no wonder Lyon look dejected at times.
Classical finger spinning is a difficult art and the margins for error are very slim. Lyon relies heavily on off spin, drift, accuracy and especially bounce to get wickets. Other bowlers like Muttiah Muralitharan have the added advantage of moving the ball both ways off the pitch with the doosra, whereas Lyon does not. It takes very little for any one of these things to be not quite right and a bowler is going to struggle.
It’s not unexpected that Lyon lost confidence. He’s no different than any other cricketer, and with all the issues previously mentioned conspiring to stop him taking wickets it’s no wonder his confidence has been down. That said, he’s never stopped trying and has still done a pretty reasonable job of containment.
Lyon’s efforts in Adelaide should hose down any discussion about leaving him out of the Perth Test in favour of another fast bowler. Any good bowling attack needs variety, and Lyon provides that. He is a genuine wicket-taking option who can also build pressure, stopping the runs and working in partnership with any of the three quicks.
The Black Caps will not be taking a confident Nathan Lyon lightly. He has an excellent record against them in Tests and if he can bowl in a similar fashion to the Adelaide second innings, with lots of flight, loop and bounce, he could be a major factor in the trans-Tasman series.