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Is Nathan Lyon really the GOAT?

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15th August, 2020
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Off spin? Easy to bowl and easy to bat against.

Not that effective in some conditions.

Take Dom Bess, for example. In 86 overs in the current Test match between England and Pakistan, he has yet to be called to the bowling crease – not even a token over before an interval.

Yet, the best Test match bowling figures were recorded by off-spinner, Jim Laker, who took 19-90 in 1956. On the recent anniversary of this remarkable feat, footage of some of his wickets was shown.

This also shows an almost embarrassed-looking Laker walking off, prompting the lovely vignette from Lawrence Booth, the Wisden Almanack editor: “And he reacts as if he’s just taken 0 for 100. On the way home that night, he stopped off for a sandwich in a pub, where he watched the highlights on the TV. Sat quietly in the corner. No one bothered him”.

And who is the highest Test wicket-taker with 800 victims? Off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, of course, who has held the record since 2007. He was not the first off-spinner to be on top of this list. In 1976, Lance Gibbs overtook Fred Trueman and kept the record for almost six years.

Australian Hugh Trumble was also the leading Test wicket-taker for almost a decade until 1913.


When Nathan Lyon surpassed Trumble’s 141 wickets, he became his country’s leading off-spin wicket-taker. Ever since, he has bowled with confidence and great skill to reach a tally of 390 and been known as the GOAT (greatest of all time). While he has stretched the gap between himself and the next best in terms of total Test wickets, is he really the GOAT among Australian Test spinners?

Who are his challengers?

Ashley Mallett was always highly regarded by Ian Chappell and his 132 wickets were taken at an average of 29.84. At the moment, Lyon’s average sits at 31.58. Indeed, Trumble’s average of 21 matches that of Laker’s but he bowled in a very different era over a century ago.

Mallett’s strike rate (balls bowled per wicket) is higher than Lyon’s, however – 75.6 compared to 62.9.

Also averaging better than Lyon is Ian Johnson, whose 109 wickets were taken at 29.19. The former Test captain’s strike rate was 80.5, however.

Bruce Yardley had a very respectable 126 wickets at an average very close to Lyon’s of 31.63 and a strike rate of 70.7. Even the much-maligned Nathan Hauritz finished with 63 wickets at 34.98 and a strike rate of 66.6.

So, taken just on these measurements, Lyon looks to be rightfully crowned the GOAT…but wait on, there is one more post-war off-spinner to consider. His 68 Test wickets were taken at just 26.15 and his strike rate was 59.2.

Australia celebrate an Ashes win

(AP Photo/Rui Vieira)


Like Yardley, Colin “Funky” Miller changed from being a medium pace bowler to bowling off-spin. Of course, some of the time in Tests he reverted to medium pace – even in the same over – but most of his Test victims were captured when bowling spin. What an underrated cricketer who fans perhaps remember more for his blue hair and other eccentricities.

He controversially took Shane Warne’s spot in the West Indies for a reason – he could bowl.

So never underestimate the off-spinners. They might not be as glamourous as their leg-spin cousin (Mallett’s ironic nickname was Rowdy, after all), but Lyon isn’t the only contender for the title of GOAT.