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Why Lyon should keep playing Tests into his roaring 40s - and Maxwell can keep white-ball berths as long as he wants

1st December, 2023
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1st December, 2023
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Nathan Lyon is joining James Anderson at Lancashire next year and it wouldn’t be a great surprise if the Australian spinner plays Test cricket into his 40s like his new county teammate. 

Lyon is just five wickets away from becoming only the eighth player in Test cricket history to reach the 500 milestone. 

Even though he turned 36 a couple of weeks ago, what’s stopping him playing another four or five years? 

The way his Ashes campaign ended with a torn calf at Lord’s could keep the fire burning for another trip to the UK in 2027.

Anderson has managed to prolong his Test career past his 41st birthday and without denigrating Lyon’s work as an off-spinner, the English seamer has put many more miles in his legs over the course of his 20-plus years at the professional level. 

DELHI, INDIA - FEBRUARY 18: Nathan Lyon of Australia appeals unsuccessfully for the wicket of Cheteshwar Pujara of India during day two of the Second Test match in the series between India and Australia at Arun Jaitley Stadium on February 18, 2023 in Delhi, India. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Nathan Lyon. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

On a similar front, Glenn Maxwell could do likewise in the T20 arena. 

While he can stand upright (moving his feet is apparently optional) he should be a fixture in the national T20 team and probably the one-day squad too. 

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The selectors need to refresh Australia’s ageing sides but that doesn’t mean they can’t be strategic in allowing certain players like Lyon and Maxwell in their favoured formats to go beyond their 30s if their form is warranted. 

NFL star Tom Brady is a modern example of athletes still being able to dominate past their 40th birthday and NBA kingpin LeBron James is a little more than a year away from doing the same with little to no sign of the Lakers record-breaker slowing down. 

What the Australian selectors need to avoid at all costs is a situation where they have a bunch of veterans in any of the three formats continuing on past their use-by date and an inexperienced cohort of new players thrown into the deep end. 

Lyon is not only holding his spot but is arguably the best Test spinner in the world along with Ravichandran Ashwin – he finished equal top alongside Kagiso Rabada for most wickets in 2022 with 47 and is second only to his Indian rival (40-38) this year.

When it comes to Lyon’s rivals on the spin front, Todd Murphy is the heir apparent but Tanveer Sangha is already on the fast track to the top. 

Murphy is 23, Sangha just 22 so both are still very young at an art form which most spinners don’t master until much later in their careers compared to seamers, batters and wicketkeepers. 

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While Sangha was in India for the World Cup as a travelling reserve to soak up the experience of being in an Australian team dressing room, Murphy has been slogging it out at Shield level.

He’s slogged it out to take seven wickets at 58.71 from four appearances but Lyon has also found the going tough with just four scalps in three games. 

While white-ball specialist Adam Zampa is all but resigned to never playing Test cricket after missing out on the trip to India earlier this year, Maxwell is yet to give up on a baggy green recall to add to the seven matches on his resume.

The bad news for the contenders to Lyon’s throne is that there is unlikely to be a need for a second spinner until the tour of Sri Lanka in early 2025. 

In the five Tests coming up at home against Pakistan and the West Indies, the two-match tour of New Zealand and the five-game visit from India in the next Australian summer, there will only be a need for one spinner and unless injury or a dramatic form slump strike, that will be Lyon. 

Lyon has always been durable – the Lord’s Test was his 100th on the trot before a rare injury sent him home early.

And he’s kept himself in good physical shape so another five years at the top is not out of the question.

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The late, great Shane Warne’s fitness fluctuated throughout his career but he was able to play into his late 30s. 

29 Dec 2000: Colin Miller of Australia comes in to bowl, in the 4th test match between Australia and the West Indies, played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne, Australia. Mandatory Credit: Robert Cianflone/ALLSPORT

Colin “Funky” Miller bowls at Melbourne in 2000. (Photo: Robert Cianflone/ALLSPORT)

Living in his shadow were Stuart MacGill, Brad Hogg and Bryce McGain and by the time Warne retired, they were also in their mid to late 30s and either couldn’t keep up with the demands of Test cricket or were belted off the scene.

Australia have had several spinners who were still going strong well into their 30s.

Colin Miller was 37 when he was named Test player of the year at the AB Medal in 2001, Bob Holland was 38 with the grey hair to prove it when he made his debut in 1984 while it’s unlikely Bert Ironmonger’s record of being a few months shy of his 47th birthday when he played his first match in 1928 will ever be broken.

Old Bertie, who managed to take 74 wickets in 14 Tests despite having the index finger on his left bowling hand amputated after an accident as a child, played for Australia until he was nearly 51.

Hard to see Lyon lasting that long.

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