In a once-dominant team humbled by a cheating scandal and still racked with doubts about its identity, spinner Nathan Lyon has been a reassuring throwback to an age of hard-bitten Australian cricketers who talked the talk and walked the walk.
After India completed a 31-run victory in the series-opener on Monday, few of Captain Tim Paine’s players will report for duty at the Perth second test with enhanced reputations. Lyon, however, is not one of them as he burnished his stature at Adelaide Oval by anchoring a gritty tail-end push for a final day victory after he had taken eight wickets with the ball. Australia may have failed in their bid to pull off an unlikely victory, but Lyon ended the match unbeaten on 38 as he ran out of partners at a venue where he wore overalls as a groundsman eight years ago.
A cult hero in Australia, the 31-year-old has been nicknamed the ‘GOAT’ (Greatest of All Time), for good reason. His 326 test wickets is a record for an Australian off-spinner, more than double the 141 taken by Hugh Trumble more than a century ago. But the man known as “Gazza” to his team mates has become much more than a sum of his statistics, and seems to add a new string to his bow every season. Last year under Captain Steve Smith, who is currently serving a suspension for ball-tampering, Lyon became the team’s unofficial sledger-in-chief in the lead-up to the Ashes. He first tore into the 2013-14 England team that were whitewashed 5-0 and spoke of “ending careers” in Joe Root’s side on their subsequent tour Down Under in a rant that was denounced widely in British newspapers. He backed up his words with 21 wickets as Australia thrashed England 4-0 to regain the urn they had relinquished in 2015.
Lyon also marked himself as an elite fielder in the series, with a stunning, one-handed caught-and-bowled effort to dismiss Moeen Ali at Adelaide Oval emerging as the highlight of several brilliant plays. A year later, Lyon appears to have enhanced his overall repertoire with an improved batting technique.
Against India, Australia were staring down the barrel at 104 for four at stumps on day four, still 219 runs short of their victory target, when Lyon issued a rallying cry.
“We’ve got a massive sniff here, I believe anyway, in this test match,” he told reporters after taking 6-122 to limit India to 307 in their second innings. He called on his team mates to be “heroes” but nearly became one himself in a mature 47-ball knock that was at odds with the usual tail-end slog-fest. It was a result of a winter batting sessions with his brother Brendan Lyon, who runs a coaching school for juniors, state radio reported.
Australia head into Friday’s test plagued with doubts about its batting and the wayward form of pace spearhead Mitchell Starc. But with Lyon in the side, they at least have a model for inspiration and grit, qualities sorely needed to turn the four-match series around and deny India a first ever victorious tour Down Under.