Galle. September 2011.
In the blue corner stands Kumar Sangakkara. Quiet. Radically skillful. Battle scarred. Brutal. Cricket’s Clark Kent.
In the red corner stands a 23 year old kid. A country lad on debut. A groundsman. An off spinner yet to bowl in a Test match.
It’s not a fair fight. Some in the commentary box have the white town ready to throw in should it be required.
The bell rings. The off spinner comes around the wicket. The ball flights, grips, turns, bounces, hits the edge and is caught by the skipper at slip.
The debutant’s inaugural Test match delivery – 1
Clark Kent – 0
Nathan Lyon went on to take 5 wickets in that innings. Apart from Mathews, he also cleaned up the tail.
Australians wouldn’t see him take a 5 wicket haul on home soil until his 29th match. By then, they had made up their minds. He wasn’t very good. He couldn’t spin his side to victory.
Mike Hussey saw something in him. When Mr Cricket backs a man, it comes with gravitas. He handed over his team song duties to Lyon. A strong message given the spinner’s role in the side was far from concrete. It would be a long time before the man from country New South Wales would get to lead the team in joyous vocal pomposity.
Spinners and wicket keepers share an undeniable bond. It was a former wicket keeper who gave Lyon his first big opportunity. South Australian coach Darren Berry saw Lyon play and offered him a role in the 2010/11 Redback’s Big Bash squad. He would be the team’s leading wicket taker in his debut season.
Lyon is currently in the West Indies. He sits only 4 wickets behind Hugh Trumble’s record as Australia’s most successful off spinner.
That the record has stood 110 years demonstrates how difficult it is to be a world class spinner. That Lyon is only 27 years old speaks to the talent that he has.
The path for spinners in Australia since the retirement of Shane Warne has been irritating at best. Before Lyon, there was a progression of upstarts all looking to fulfil the public’s demand for a new “Sheik of Tweak”.
Since his debut in Galle, Lyon has seen off Agar, Doherty, Maxwell and O’Keefe.
His latest challenger is a Pakistani refugee named Fawad.
Criticism of Lyon usually labours on the fact that he brought a white ball technique into a red ball realm.
He bowls too quickly. He is more dart than flight. He choses a defensive around the wicket line.
Lyon was 2nd on the list of wicket takers for Australia in their 2014 ODI Tri-series against Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Yet, he was dropped for the World Cup lead up games against India and England, and ultimately, the World Cup itself.
Xavier Doherty, his replacement, played only one game and gave away 60 runs in 7 overs.
There is always someone threatening to take Lyon’s spot. Like all underdogs, the public like him. However, they don’t yet adore him. Even after his first Ashes 5 wicket haul during the Boxing Day Test in 2013, they were unsure.
Off spinners aren’t sexy. Especially ones with thinning tops and lacking a bent arm.
Yet, one senses that Nathan Lyon has moved into phase two of his Test journey. This is that part of the show where he consistently bowls Australia to victory on Day 5. The one where his place is not under threat. The one where his team mates trust him.
He showed it last summer against the Indians. When he went over the wicket, he created chances. The ball would spin. Most importantly, the ball would bounce.
Lyon may turn it the wrong way for typical Australian tastes. But tastes change.
The selectors seem to allow the newer, shinier model to get a chance to displace him.
The newer, shinier model never does.
It is a common thread in Lyon’s career.
Survivor. Fighter. Off Spinner.
This Article was Reproduced with permission at The Roar