Nathan Lyon has challenged England’s batsmen to try to hit him out of the Australian attack at Adelaide Oval, after the tourists’ attempts to outlast the offspinner in Brisbane proved fruitless.
Having talked a big game leading into the series, specifically commenting on his desire to “end a few careers” in the England team, Lyon backed up his words with a performance that made him the undisputed bowler of the match, controlling the scoreboard while claiming five wickets. In doing so he not only tied England’s complement of left-handers in knots, but also allowed Australia’s pace bowlers to avoid being unduly stretched in the absence of an allrounder.
After bowling 60 overs, conceding barely 2.5 runs in each, Lyon felt the English will attempt to take a more assertive approach in Adelaide. But at the end of a year in which he successfully conquered the batsmen of India and Bangladesh in their own conditions, he is highly confident in his ability to emerge triumphant regardless of whether he is faced by stonewalling or sabre-rattling.
“I think if they did do that [attack] it does definitely play into my hands,” Lyon said before training alongside his mentor John Davison in Adelaide. “I like it when opposition guys try to attack me and try to whack me out of the attack if you’re talking about batting against a spin bowler. It’s a part of the game, name of the game is to take wickets and score runs, so no doubt England will come prepared and they’ll have a different plan for me compared to what they did in the first Test, but it is what it is, about adapting, enjoying the challenge and embracing the game of cricket, having fun and competing hard.
“I enjoy bowling to left-handers but also enjoy bowling to right-handers and challenging myself against the best batters in the world. I daresay they’ll change their game to me at some stage, there was a lot more positive intent shown to me and my bowling in the second innings, so it provides a great challenge when guys come at you hard and hopefully you’re in with a chance to take some wickets, so it’s exciting times and I look forward to the challenge they bring.”
A cornerstone of Australia’s success over England in the corresponding series four years ago was a batting order stacked with right-handers to attack Graeme Swann. But whereas Swann was physically struggling with a chronic elbow problem that pushed him to retire mid-series, Lyon is at the peak of his powers and more than happy to combine attacking and holding roles as part of a four-man bowling attack alongside Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.
“If you talk to Josh and Starcy, they think bowling spin’s pretty easy, you only walk in seven steps and roll the arm over, so if you ask them it’s pretty easy and that’s just my role in the side,” Lyon quipped. “But one thing about the Australian bowling unit is we all respect each other, we’re all really good mates and we all want to see each other do really well. So that’s just part of my role and I’m happy to do whatever I have to do to make sure our quicks are firing and when they come back they’re ready to go and put into place whatever plans Steve Smith and us bowlers come up with.
“I’m looking forward to coming out here [in Adelaide], I know how to bowl out here. I know this will probably spin very similarly to the Gabba. I’ve never seen a Gabba wicket spin as much as it did the whole game, so I was pretty excited by that but I know how to bowl out here, I’ve seen these drop-in wickets and the wickets Damian [Hough] produces spin a fair bit and bounce, so I’m pretty excited about what lies around the corner.”
It was in Adelaide a year ago when Lyon and Australia pulled out of a shared dive. The team came in having lost five consecutive Tests while the custodian of the team song underwhelmed in Sri Lanka before taking only one wicket in the first two matches at home to South Africa. Given his subsequent success, the national selectors have been reticent to discuss how close they came to dropping Lyon, but the coach Darren Lehmann’s words to a local radio station remain: “Lyon was in because we couldn’t select [Steve] O’Keefe, he was injured beforehand.”
With the benefit of a year’s perspective, Lyon said the Adelaide Test against South Africa was indeed his turning point. “If you look back, it’s probably this Test match last year,” he said. “I really was confident in my own skills to get the job done and really go out there and prove a point that I’m the number one spinner in Australia and I need to start playing like that. Then you go off on the back end of the Australian summer to India, then to Bangladesh and I know there was a lot of pressure put on me to go over to the subcontinent conditions and perform.
“I know how to bowl well here in Australia, I know how to compete so I think that is probably where my confidence has come from and I’m very confident with the way the ball is coming out of my hand. I’m still doing a lot of work with John Davison, he’s down here now, I will go out the back straight after this and do a bit more work with him so I’m always trying to get better and trying to look for improvement but I’m very happy with the way they are coming out.”
Not only is the ball fizzing out of Lyon’s fingers, but the words are fizzing from his lips, in a way far removed from the shyness that characterised many of his earlier years in the national team. Asked about his pre-Gabba comments and how he had seemed to be a villain in English eyes, Lyon wasn’t quite sure how that fit, but did not resile from his views.
“I don’t know about the villain,” he said, “I still stand by my comments. But that is the Australian way, I’m here to play cricket, I’m here to represent my country and do that the best possible way. Right now, I am very happy with the way the ball is coming out of my hand, I’m very confident and really excited playing in an Ashes series, I said that before the first Test match and to be 1-0 up coming into Adelaide, to a sold-out crowd here, it’s a pretty special venue so I’m pretty excited.”
The last word on Lyon’s place in this series can go to Sir Ian Botham, seldom known to offer excessive compliments to Australians. “Everyone talked about the seam bowling at the Gabba but Nathan Lyon was for me the standout bowler because he tied up an end,” Botham said in Sydney. “He was the most dangerous bowler on both sides in the first innings of a Test at the Gabba, which is unheard of for a fingerspinner.” (ESPNCricinfo)