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Nice, Garry! Lyon joins legends with 500th Test wicket as Aussies rout Pakistan for massive win

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17th December, 2023
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Nathan Lyon became just the third Australian to 500 Test wickets to provide the highlight of a dominant fourth day in Perth, the champion off-spinner helping to rout Pakistan for just 89 and secure a commanding 360-run win.

On a treacherous Perth wicket featuring uneven bounce and cracks aplenty, Lyon needed to wait for the milestone as the Australian quicks, led by three scalps apiece from Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, made mincemeat of the tourists’ batting order, turning what had been a doughty performance from the underdogs across the first three days into their latest humbling defeat on these shores.

From the moment Abdullah Shafique edged a Starc riser through to Alex Carey in the first over of the innings, having been set exactly 450 runs after Pat Cummins’ mid-afternoon declaration, the visitors looked totally incapable of fighting off conditions seemingly tailor-made for Australia’s menacing attack.

The star trio’s dominance briefly threatened to force Lyon to head to the MCG for the Boxing Day Test still stuck on 499 Test scalps, but the magical moment would arrive when a classically flighted off-break straightened down the line to trap Faheem Ashraf LBW, though Cummins would need to call for the DRS to overturn umpire Richard lllingworth’s not out call.

Holding the ball aloft to a sparse but appreciative Optus Stadium crowd, the moment was the ultimate vindication for one of Australian cricket’s most resilient careers.

Emerging during a period of crisis for Australian spin bowling in the era immediately following the retirement of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath – Lyon’s companions in the 500-wickets club – the off-spinner has endured trials, tribulations, controversial omissions and home conditions usually hazardous for slow bowling, and overcome them all to sit deservingly on the top shelf of Australia’s greatest ever spinners.

“It’s something I’m pretty proud about,” Lyon said of the milestone after play.

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“For a young kid growing up in country NSW, 500 wickets was a bloody long way away.

“500 wickets is pretty amazing – to do it here and contribute to a pretty impressive team win, it makes things a lot better.”

Nathan Lyon celebrates taking his 500th Test wicket.

Nathan Lyon celebrates taking his 500th Test wicket. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Having struggled through one of his toughest summers on the eve of his 400th Test wicket against India in 2020/21, to have secured his latest milestone so early in the season will undoubtedly be a relief for the 36-year old – as will the fact he will arrive in Melbourne with 501 wickets after cleaning up Aamer Jamal with a vicious low shooter just four balls later.

The inevitable end arrived when Hazlewood removed Saud Shakeel and Khurram Shahzad with successive balls, the latter spooning the simplest of catches to David Warner at first slip to complete the demolition job.

Speaking after the match, a delighted Cummins had nothing but praise for Lyon and his team as a whole.

“500 Test wickets – I mean, that’s all over the world, that’s over a decade, all conditions, he just finds a way,” Cummins said.

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“I couldn’t be happier for him. I know he’s been stewing on that one for about six months with his calf injury, so great t see him back and get through the game and bowling as well as he ever has.”

That Warner had the final say was fitting after his first-day century put Australia in an all but unassailable position right out of the blocks, though his performance wasn’t enough for player of the match honours, Mitchell Marsh’s twin half-centuries and crucial wicket of Babar Azam in the first innings making him a popular recipient.

“My first Test at Perth Stadium and first Test match in Perth for six years, so it was nice to be back,” Marsh said during the post-match presentation.

“The wicket felt really tricky, and we wanted to get above 400 and then we could sort of push the button a bit. Even today, it felt pretty tricky, and we knew our bowlers were going to be a handful, and that proved to be the case.”

Before Australia could run through their opponents with the ball, however, they had to negotiate the hazards of the pitch with the bat themselves.

Resuming on 2/84 and a 300-run lead, hopes of a freewheeling start to the day to set up a declaration were mitigated by the struggle to simply survive.

Steve Smith added just two to his overnight total before falling again to debutant Shahzad – though the veteran was unimpressed by being given out after a review found the ball to only be clipping the leg bail by the barest of margins – while Travis Head could only muster a streaky 13 before loosely driving Jamal to cover.

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That same over, Marsh survived a caught behind appeal first up after a Pakistan review found the ball had merely grazed his arm, while Khawaja was given out but overturned a plumb-looking LBW due to being struck outside the line of off stump.

Both would continue to struggle with the surface’s uneven bounce and venomous bite, with Khawaja copping a nasty blow to the hand and Marsh being pinged on the helmet – and struggling to find a replacement to fit his sizeable head – as Jamal took his frustrations out on the star pair.

But throughout it all, Australia’s lead continued to grow, Khawaja slicing Salman wide of slip to bring up a gutsy half-century and Marsh, in more imperious style, doing likewise shortly after lunch with a brutal cover drive – though not before he had been spared by a dropped sitter at mid-off from captain Shan Masood.

Pakistan’s early fire with the ball began to dissipate, Khawaja and Marsh taking a particular liking to star quick Shaheen Shah Afridi with five boundaries in his first two overs after the break as the lead swelled past 400.

Just when centuries appeared on the cards for both, an aggressive Khawaja perished slicing Afridi to deep third man for 90, prompting Cummins to call a halt to the innings with Marsh unbeaten on 63.

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A chase of 450 would have been an almighty challenge on the flattest of wickets: here, it was always going to be near on impossible.

But the meekness of Pakistan’s surrender, treacherous conditions or no, belied the grit and determination they applied to their first three days in Perth.

Shafique could hardly be blamed for copping a snorter from Starc in the first over of the innings, but a timid waft from Masood off Hazlewood to gift Carey a second catch gave proof to his underwhelming Test batting average of under 30.

So resolute with 62 in the first innings, Imam-ul-Haq could only muster 10 at the second time of asking before a Hazlewood nip-backer trapped him in front, the opener’s review only confirming he could scarcely have been plumber.

Introduced after just 11 bowlers despite the quicks’ impressive start, Cummins’ keenness for Lyon to reach his milestone was palpable, but it would be the skipper himself to land the next blow, star Pakistani Babar Azam winkled out by a perfect line and considerable bounce to graze his thumb en route to Carey.

At 4/53 at tea, Pakistan’s chances of making it through the day, never mind challenging the run chase, looked slim, and slimmer still when Starc struck with his first over after the resumption to have Sarfaraz Ahmed caught by Marsh in the gully.

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Frazzled and beaten into submission, the tourists’ dire day was summed up by a disastrous mix-up between Shakeel and Salman, the former leaving the latter high and dry after tapping in front of Head at backward square, setting off for a single, and changing his mind past his partner’s point of no return.

As an added bonus for Australia, Marnus Labuschagne’s involvement in the dismissal, gathering Head’s throw to the bowler’s end and removing the bails, was another positive sign that the star batter’s blow to the fingers on Day 3 wasn’t serious, having earlier proved his fitness by facing express paceman Lance Morris on the Perth practice wickets.

With the end in sight, Lyon’s return was a given, though Cummins’ first attempt to winkle him his milestone wicket via the DRS was unsuccessful as a caught behind appeal found no bat as Faheem Ashraf played and missed.

He’d have better luck second time around, an initially unmoved Illingworth forced to raise his finger after Lyon’s slider to trap the all-rounder in front was proved to be crashing into leg stump.

Jamal fell four balls later as the pitch’s uneven bounce skittled his stumps as much as the off-spinner’s innocuous ball did; Hazlewood did the rest to complete a crushing triumph for the home side.

Speaking after the match, Pakistan captain Masood lamented his team’s sluggishness with the bat in their first innings, but was committed to focussing on positives ahead of two further matches in Australia this summer.

“When you come to these shores, you look for progress,” Masood said.

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“If you told us at the start of the Test match that Australia would play 110 overs in their first innings and we would play 100 overs, I would take that as a batting unit.

“Even though we were playing one of the best attacks in the world, we could have batted a bit quicker. We probably missed out on 60-70 runs in that case, which would have made the lead a bit sizeable.

“Bowling-wise, we did a lot of good things, we had a lot of plays and misses, a lot of wickets – but it’s what you do around those good deliveries. And I thought that’s where we were not as disciplined as we wanted to be.

“A lot of lessons, but a lot of positive things that we can take forward.”

1-0 up in the best-of-three series, Australia will be out to secure the Benaud-Qadir Trophy with another win at the MCG.

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