It is the day before the start of the Adelaide Test match. The Australian players are having one final net session. In one of the nets, Nathan Lyon is having a long chat with an unfamiliar man dressed in casual jeans and a t-shirt. The pair discusses writs position, seam angle and arm slant at the crease. It takes a while, but eventually, the message from the Australian camp is that the unfamiliar person is Craig Howard, a spin consultant with Cricket Australia.
Lyon and Howard go back nearly eight years when Howard was a part-time spin coach with South Australia and Lyon was still a groundsman trying to break into the big league. Howard, a former First-class cricketer with Victoria, had been recruited by the South Australian coach Darren Berry to work with upcoming spinners.
Howard has not met Lyon for five years. He is in Adelaide at the U-19 national carnival and has come to observe the Australia practice session.
"I was down by the nets with the U-19 teams and (Lyon) called me into the nets to look at the way the ball was coming out. He trusts the information that we will deliver to him in those early periods. As a spinner, you get a lot of information thrown at you at a young age, he respects what was told to him during those days, so it's probably why he asked me to have a look at few things and have a bowl," Howard tells Firstpost.
Lyon might be a world beater now, but there were minor tweaks that had to be made to his bowling action during those early days that have allowed him to be more successful than any other finger spinner in the Australian conditions.
"When we first got a hold of him (Lyon), he always had a bit of over-spin, he ran in with a bit of an angle and had a real high release which might have gone past the vertical. So rather than mess with his arm height, we just got his alignment right, which involved getting his feet into the right position which got his arm into a better position."
The minor tweaks allowed Lyon to put a nice curve and also drop the ball. After that, it was left on Lyon to get plenty of force behind the ball.
"When you are bowling with over-spin, you need a lot of energy and a lot of vigour and a lot of force," says Howard. "One of the reasons Lyon has been able to have enormous success in Australia has been his ability to impart over-spin on the ball or as Lyon likes to call it "putting spin on the back of the ball rather than side on."
According to Howard, Lyon had evolved tremendously as a spinner in the last three years and has figured out a formula for adverse conditions.
"I think his pace is natural, he wouldn't think too much about it. It is the seam position that dictates that when he bowls with the high over-spin, it comes out a lot slower. It comes with a squarer seam then it is slighting faster, if it is completely flat seam, it is really going to come out flat and much quicker. Certain conditions determine how (he) is going to bowl. The pace is natural. Arm speed is about the same every time with him putting effort on the ball."
One word that Howard is restrained from using to describe his former pupil is ‘athlete'. As Howard says putting constant force and vigour on the ball by using your whole body are taxing and requires a lot of effort. While Lyon might be the master at imparting over-spin on the ball, he also took notice of the way Ravichandran Ashwin was trying to put more body into the ball to create more over-spin during India's tour of England earlier this year.
"There were a couple of balls that he got Alastair Cook out earlier in that series which showed the importance of bowling with over-spin. It shows what kind of athlete you need to be to constantly put over-spin on the ball.
"He was running and jumping and using so much of his body which allowed him to be a lot more effective. Unfortunately, with the time, his body couldn't stack up to it because he wasn't conditioned. That is just my observation come from far. It could have been something else too," he concludes.
So what was the discussion in the nets leading up the Adelaide Test, a match in which Lyon took 6-122 in the second innings? "He asked me what I thought and I said it looks unreal to me and that's about it he says with a smile."