Playing in Asian conditions, Australian off spinner Nathan Lyon has had a remarkable turnaround this year. It has reminded me of that age old baseball cliché about the difference between ‘hurlers’ and ‘pitchers’. Like a performer embracing the subtleties of their profound craft, Lyon has impressed with his spin bowling in recent times.
He has resembled a wrecking ball in Asia this calendar year, taking 41 wickets at an average of 19.39 with an economy rate of 2.69. These figures seem even more remarkable considering they include a 4 test series against a dominant Indian team playing in home conditions. This is a far cry from his previous struggles in Asia where he has averaged 42.57, with an economy rate of 3.67.
Most have attributed Lyon’s previous struggles to the fact he lacks a ‘doosra’ in his bowling arsenal. But the key has been more due to him getting caught up in the accent on spin rather than the embrace of guile. It is reminiscent of the common mistake visiting quick bowlers used to make on the old style fast and bouncy WACA pitch. Often being colluded by the conditions and bowling too short and going for plenty of runs. While witnessing those who pitched it up having the best success.His previous approach revolved around his characteristic heavy over spin style attacking an off stump, or just outside off stump line. He would try to accentuate his spin by bowling at around 80-85km. These tactics made it too easy for batsmen to rock onto the back foot and turn the spinning ball to the leg side or sweep Lyon’s fuller length balls.
Lyon’s recent success has revolved around a similar line, supported by a subtle upping in speed, which has been made more lethal by him bowling more arm balls. The irony of this change in tactics is that he would have witnessed the Australian batsmen struggling in Asia, falling predominantly to the ball that goes gun barrel straight, rather than the one that spins square.
It stood out in the recent test held in Chittagong where the first 4 wickets in Bangladesh’s first innings fell LBW to Lyon. Each time there was a wicket, the commentators exalted how the batsman was dismissed due to them ‘playing for spin’ rather than straight ones. The seed of doubt it planted in the rest of the batsmen was profound as they knew they must guard against this lethal variation, making Lyon an even more dangerous force when he did spin the ball. The sublime deception that Lyon bowls with reminds this old sage of the great Indian off spinner Erapilli Prasanna with his devastating arm ball delivery. In fact he would bowl with a duo of arm balls, both with no discernible change in action, but one, ever so slightly turning the other way.
With Lyon showing he is a profound student, it is clearly a case of imitation. If he could master the Prasanna variation of the arm ball it would make him even more devastating. For unlike the stand out change in an off spinners’ delivery when bowling the ‘doosra’, this would remain undetectable as most batsmen already show they have no clue at picking Lyon’s straight ball.
From a career stand point it is often lost on onlookers that at 29, Lyon is a virtual babe in spinning parlances. One only has to look at the success that great Sri Lankan left arm spinner Rangana Herath has enjoyed since turning 30, with 353 of his 389 test wickets coming after his 30th birthday. With his recent successes in Asia and after being a respected force in a noted graveyard for off spinners back home, it would not surprise me to see Lyon end his test career with 600 test wickets.
Back to the here and now – Lyon completed the 2nd innings with 6/60 to finish the test with 13 wickets. In fact, his match figures of 13/154 in the recent test were the best figures by any Australian in Asia.