MELBOURNE (Reuters) - For an Ashes series tipped to be decided by glowering pacemen, the opening tests have instead served to highlight the supremacy of Australia’s spin bowling through the once criminally under-rated Nathan Lyon.
The offspinner’s reputation has reached cult hero status among home fans in the past year but the Ashes could take it into a new stratosphere if he continues his brilliant start at the third test at the WACA next week.
Steve Smith may be Australia’s captain and a mad genius with the bat, but Lyon is the “GOAT” - Greatest Of All Time - with 280 test wickets and the record for an Australian “offie”.
The tally is all the more impressive given Australia’s ungenerous pitches.
Lyon would need 428 wickets to catch Shane Warne’s 708 but the record could be under threat if he can match the “self-belief” of the peerless Australian legspinner, coach Darren Lehmann told local radio last week.
Far more than a bowler, Lyon has become an inspiration to his team mates with his acrobatic fielding and his enthusiastic sledging.
Prior to the series, he tore a strip off the 2013/14 England that were whitewashed 5-0 and targeted Joe Root’s team in the same public rant.
It was all for the team, he said with a shrug, as pundits denounced his character in British newspapers.
He backed up his words with five wickets at the Gabba and an inspired piece of fielding to run out England number three James Vince.
The heroics continued with six wickets at Adelaide Oval, where his one-handed caught and bowled to remove Moeen Ali for 25 seemed to perfectly capture the gap between the spinners.
The WACA has traditionally been the fast bowlers’ paradise but Lyon’s coach John Davison sees another big test coming up for his 30-year-old charge with Australia 2-0 up in the series.
“I think Nathan’s greatest attribute is the bounce that he gets and there’s always a nice breeze to bowl into at the WACA so (he gets) good shape in the air,” Davison told reporters in Perth on Friday.
“So, I’d think he’d be one of the first picked.”
Lyon was given the honour of leading the team’s victory song, ‘Under the Southern Cross’, following the retirement of Mike Hussey in 2013, yet has only recently silenced doubts about his place in the team.
Australia seemed obsessed with finding a ready-made Warne replacement after the bowler’s 2007 retirement and went through a procession of spinners before almost grudgingly settling on Lyon, who was once famously a groundsman at Adelaide Oval.
The pressure returned when Lyon had a modest series away in Sri Lanka and at home to South Africa last year but he finished the Australian summer strongly and was dominant in India.
“The majority of his career he’s been battling for a steady position in his team,” said Davison.
“In general, I think they’ve been looking at who’s coming through instead of possibly backing him to the hilt.
“I think he can just keep getting better and better.
“In my opinion, at the moment he’s the best spin bowler in the world.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Nick Mulvenney