India vs Australia: In Nathan Lyon, visitors have found a worthy successor to Shane Warne

Australia’s frantic search for a spin bowling successor to flamboyant wizard, Shane Warne, has ended. However, the heir is the antithesis of Warne whose blond mane, outspoken ways, penchant to get into the eye of controversies, magical leg spin bowling and of course avoirdupois were all severely flogged talking points.  In contrast, the 29-year-old Nathan Lyon, a worthy cricketing successor to the walking back-of-the-hand legend, is pencil thin, balding, low key and an off spinner. He might not be as mesmerising in his demolition of batsmen as Warne and his leg spin; but Lyon is just as effective. Like on Saturday in the second Test at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium.

Australia's Nathan Lyon acknowledges the crowd as he walks off the ground on Saturday. REUTERS

Australia's Nathan Lyon acknowledges the crowd as he walks off the ground on Saturday. REUTERS

His magnificent exhibition of off spin bowling turned out to be as captivating as any bowled by a foreign bowler on Indian soil. Lyon’s easy run up, high arm side-on action, penchant to use the width of the bowling crease, pivot on a ram-rod straight front foot and bringing forth hip and shoulder into play while bowling were all textbook stuff. His action and finger spin enabled him to get the desired loop or even drift while the nip he got off the track was exemplary. These, along with the odd delivery which turned viciously kept all batsmen on tenterhooks.

“I tried to put him off length by attempting to sweep and reverse sweep. But it did not work today,” said top scorer KL Rahul.

Like any off spinner worth his salt Lyon seemed thrilled at the prospect of bowling into boot marks that Mitchell Starc had so obligingly provided around the danger area. It was deliveries that pitched in this targeted area which jumped and turned on right hand batsmen. It probably caused that “brain freeze”, as Mark Waugh colourfully put it, which led to skipper Virat Kohli’s dismissal.

Lyon, who had 233 Test scalps from 64 matches before the start of the Bengaluru Test, added eight wickets for 50 runs from 22.2 overs on Saturday in a performance he termed “very special”. He sported a broad smile at the end of the day’s play and said, “Don't get me wrong. I don't think it's hit me because for the last hour I was padded up as nightwatchman. This is actually the first time I've smiled.”

Interestingly, Lyon read the Bengaluru pitch with the uncanny ability of the pitch curator that he was before destiny had greater things in store. Close to a decade ago, a young Lyon moved from Canberra to Adelaide where he found work as the Adelaide Oval curator’s assistant. But it was his bowling at the nets which caught the eye of cricket coach Darren Berry and he soon found himself playing first class cricket.

Seven months later he became a Test cricketer and on debut picked up five for 34 against Sri Lanka. Lyon has gone from strength to strength after that. His wicketkeepers in the formative years in international cricket, Brad Haddin and Peter Neville, also contributed to his development by offering sound advice.

“He'd ask how his pace was; if I thought he was bowling the right line for a particular batsman; if he should be coming over the wicket or around the wicket. He'd be thinking out loud and just needed somebody to bounce it off,” Neville was quoted in an interview.

Lyon, obviously, did plenty of that en route his haul of eight wickets on Saturday. But what thrilled him beyond words was the wicket of Kohli. “He's obviously the head of the snake and if you can take that one, hopefully the body will fall away,” Lyon said at the media briefing in the evening. “He is one of the best players in the world. To take his wicket today was exceptional.”

He praised Cricket Australia's spin consultant John Davison and former South Australia coach Darren Berry, who gave him his big break, for helping him turn around. “I was getting to games two hours before and bowling in the nets with John Davison and Darren Berry on separate occasions," Lyon said. "And we really worked on my strengths. It is finally very satisfying to get some reward for the hard work put in," he said of the eight-wicket haul.

One of the opponents to praise Lyon very early in his international career was South African Graeme Smith. "Lyon has been the key factor in Australian cricket of late," Smith had said. "He has added a lot of solidness around the bowling attack. If your spinner's struggling and your quick bowlers keep having to come back again and again, eventually they're going to break down."

Instead, Lyon ensured that he got the breakthroughs to complement the fast bowlers’ work and this has helped Australia and their crop of bowlers enormously.

On Saturday, Lyon was licking his  fingers in anticipation of having another go on this pitch at the Indian batsmen. “The job is not done as yet. We need to take another 10 wickets and I am looking forward to the challenge of bowling to batsmen who are good at handling spin,” he said.

Lyon said the mood in the Australian dressing room was unbelievably good at the moment and he wanted to keep it that way for as long as possible. “India is the toughest place to play cricket. You're outside your comfort zone. If we can stay in a tight bubble, and keep doing the basics really well and competing hard, we know we could do well,” he said.

Looks like the tough just got going!

Updated Date: Mar 05, 2017 09:58 AM

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