It’s hard to believe that only a few years ago Nathan Lyon was one of the assistant groundsmen at the famous Adelaide Oval.
His summer afternoons were spent sitting on the roller, now they are spent spinning a web around the world’s best batsmen.
Australia’s most successful off-spinner finished the triumphant Ashes campaign with 21 crucial wickets in what was a dominant performance by the home side and their bowling attack. On some fairly benign surfaces throughout the series it was often Lyon who looked more dangerous than the fearsome fast bowling triumvirate. In the end the three quicks finished as the series’ leading wicket takers, but the unheralded Lyon was a key player in the series victory.
In Australian conditions it is essential the team’s spinner is able to tie up one end at the very least, if not contribute with a few timely wickets as well. Lyon’s ability to restrict the English batsmen and force them to play him cautiously allowed Steve Smith to rotate his fast men from the other end and unleash them on the hapless visitors.
Lyon’s importance in the victorious Ashes campaign became even more evident as he continued to dominate his opposite number Moeen Ali. Not only did Lyon out bowl Ali, but he also dismissed the English all-rounder so often that by the end of the series it was almost a formality that Ali would lose his wicket to the Australian tweaker.
For much of his career Lyon has been somewhat of a whipping boy for Australian fans. While not to the extent of the Marsh brothers, he was still one of the first players singled out when Australia performed poorly. This criticism has always been rather unfair on a man who now has 290 Test wickets at an average of 31.64 – numbers which are outstanding for a finger spinner who plays most of his cricket on pitches that could be mistaken for national highways.
Unfortunately for Lyon the Australian public has always been waiting for the next Shane Warne, but as time has gone on they’ve realised Warne was a once in a lifetime cricketer and they’ve learnt to accept and cherish the one they now affectionately call ‘The GOAT’ (Greatest of All-Time).
As his reputation has grown, so has his confidence. The turning point for Lyon was against India in Adelaide in 2014, the first Test match after Phil Hughes tragic passing. Defending 364 Lyon claimed 7-152 to bowl his side to victory in the fourth innings and put a stop to a rampaging Virat Kohli on the final day.
After laying his fourth innings demons to rest he set about improving his much-maligned record in Asia. It started with an improved showing on turning pitches in India in early 2017 before strong performances in Bangladesh later that year helped Australia to draw the series.
The new found confidence has given the quiet man from Young more voice and a harder edge. Many in the media were shocked when in a pre-Ashes press conference Lyon said he wanted to end a few English careers as they had done on the old enemy’s last tour. But the GOAT backed up his strong words with performance, and his reputation continues to grow along with his confidence.