An ode to Gary: Nathan Lyon’s journey to 100 tests

Nathan Lyon is set to play his 100th test against India at the GABBA. Photo: cricket.com.au

Nathan Lyon joins an elite group of Australian Cricketers today by bringing up his 100th Test Match. An incredible achievement for a player who has forged his own path to get there.

12. 

Of the 460 players to have donned the baggy green and played test cricket for Australia that is the number who have managed to get to the magical milestone of 100 test matches. 

On Friday morning at the ‘Gabba, this exclusive club will welcome its 13th member, as the laid back off-spinner from country New South Wales best known as Gary will pull on his whites and represent Australia for the 100th time. 

Nathan Lyon will join legends such as Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh, Allan Border, Michael Clarke, and Shane Warne in achieving this feat, proving just how consistently great he has been over his ten-year career. 

Whether it be his relatable and delightfully humorous personality or determination and grit on the field, the Australian public has fallen in love with Lyon over the years and, despite the COVID restrictions, will be celebrating mightily as he reaches this momentous milestone. 

So, how did a lanky boy from Young become Australia’s greatest ever off spinner? 

Let’s go back and dissect the wonderful career of Nathan “Gary” Lyon. 

A meteoric rise from curator to test cricketer 

It is among the best stories of any test cricketer past or present, as Lyon triumphantly rose from pitch curator to international cricketer in a matter of months. 

However, it is important to understand the early struggles the off-spinner went through. Despite stellar performances in country New South Wales grade cricket in the ACT representative side (the Comets), he was unable to find himself a state contract coming out of the junior system. 

Speaking to Fox Cricket’s Mark Howard as a guest on the Howie Games podcast Lyon reflects on his unusual pathway to the top level.

“The one thing I want people to think of when I finish my career is that’s Nathan Lyon, he didn’t go straight of school and walk into a contract, he actually found his own way to get there and hopefully that will inspire young boys and girls to go out and chase their dreams.” 

With cricket in his blood, Lyon would accompany playing the game with his trade as a groundskeeper and curator at the picturesque Manuka Oval in Canberra. 

Beginning as an apprentice curator in 2006, Lyon would become a key member of the grounds staff at Manuka whilst also plying his trade in grade cricket down the road as captain of Wests UC and for the representative ACT Comets side. 

Working for four years at Manuka Oval and playing cricket in Canberra, Lyon saw himself unable to crack into the state system and in 2010 decided to move south to the bigger Adelaide market and begin working as a curator at the Adelaide Oval. 

Whilst working on the ground staff, Lyon would continue to play grade cricket signing with distinguished Adelaide district side Prospect. 

Some good early performances along with an excellent futures league tournament in 2010 with the Comets seeing then South Australian coach Darren Berry adding him to the Redbacks squad. 

This one chance would be all Lyon needed, as the unknown off spinner would quickly work his way into the Redbacks T20 side for the 2010-11 Big Bash and went about making a name for himself on the domestic scene. 

Nathan Lyon playing for the Redbacks in the 2010/11 Big Bash. Photo: cricket.com.au

Through that seven match season, Lyon would top the tournament for wickets claiming eleven scalps with his ability to limit runs and turn the ball sharply garnering attention from the higher powers of Australian cricket. 

That summer of 2010 would also see him take an opportunity as a net bowler for the second test match of the Ashes series at the Adelaide Oval, as whilst working on the ground staff he impressed both camps with his composure and skill in dismissing international level batsmen. 

He would make his Sheffield Shield debut following the Big Bash in February 2011 against Western Australia at the WACA, quickly adapting to the rigours of first class cricket claiming 12 wickets across the remaining four games of the season. 

This brief snippet would be enough for the Australian selectors to pick Lyon on a test tour to Sri Lanka in August 2011, where after years of hard work both on and off the field he would live out his boyhood dream. 

A dream debut and early international struggles 

After just four first class matches, Lyon was remarkably selected for the first test of Australia’s series against Sri Lanka, with the off spinner from Young receiving Baggy Green number 421. 

Picked as the tenth spinner since the retirement of Shane Warne in 2006, the pressure was on Lyon from the beginning as Australia constantly searched for that spinning stalwart to provide a relatively inexperienced bowling attack with some stability. 

It could not have been a better welcome to the test arena. 

Coming on early in the first session on a turning wicket in Galle with Sri Lankan legend Kumar Sangakarra taking strike, Lyon would live out every boy’s dream as he produced a perfectly executed off spinning delivery to send the opposition number three back to the pavilion and prize his first test wicket. 

This would be a sign of things to come, as he stepped up as the team’s number one spinner and ended with remarkable first innings figures of 5/34 leaving fans optimistic that Australia had finally found its Warne replacement. 

Lyon would warm nicely to test cricket over the following two years, as he played through the next six series as Australia’s front line spinner claiming 68 wickets over 19 tests. 

Despite this early success however, he would hit a slump on his first tour of India in 2013, as after an ordinary display in the first match at Chennai he was left out of the side in favour of Xavier Doherty. 

Having fought his way back into the lineup for the final two matches, selectors were still not convinced and looked to a new spinning option for the following Ashes series in England in the form of left armer Ashton Agar. 

This two match absence to start the 2013 Ashes series would be the last time Lyon was omitted from an Australian test side, as he quickly went about developing his game and becoming a game changer at test level. 

Breaking through at international level and becoming the ‘GOAT’

Returning to the team for the final two matches of the 2013 Ashes, Lyon showed enough to be given top spinning honours for the return series at home beginning in November of that year. 

Supporting the heroics of a fast bowling cartel centred around the brute pace of Mitchell Johnson, Lyon played his role beautifully claiming 19 wickets across the five matches at an average of 29.12. 

With his position as the team’s number one spinner tentatively locked in, question marks still loomed over Lyon as a poor away series against Pakistan in 2014 had many thinking he wasn’t capable of bowling his country to victory. 

This is a narrative he would change in the opening match of the 2014 Border-Gavaskar series against India at the Adelaide Oval, which is forever remembered as a beautiful tribute to the recently passed Philip Hughes. 

Having claimed five wickets in the first innings, Australia found themselves well ahead of the game with solid batting performances in each dig saw them set India an unlikely 363 runs for victory on the final day. 

However, a stunning century from Virat Kohli and a wonderful supporting act of 99 by opener Murali Vijay saw the Indians within striking distance of the total at tea time. 

With the game in the balance and the deck spinning profusely, Lyon would take this opportunity to stand up and do what many had been hoping for the previous three years, bowl his country to victory. 

First removing the dangerous Vijay, he proceeded to rip through the Indian middle order and take seven wickets to give his side a heart-stopping 48 run victory. 

This would prove to be a major turning point for Lyon, as he finally established himself as a game changer at international level. 

Claiming 23 wickets at an average of 34.82 in that series, he would move from strength to strength over the next six years of his career as he constantly refined his game to become the world’s premier off spin bowler. 

Whether it be claiming the nicknames Gary and GOAT during the summer of 2016/17, bamboozling the English left handers in back to back Ashes series or leading Australia to victory on day five on countless occasions, Lyon has captured the hearts on cricket fans not only in Australia but around the world. 

A stereotypical Aussie larrikin, you will struggle to find a more relatable test cricketer who constantly gives back to the fans and personifies the phrase “having a crack.” 

When it comes to the soon-to-be 13 players to have played 100 test matches for Australia, you will hard-pressed to find somebody more deserving of reaching the milestone. 

So we bid the GOAT good luck for this his 100th test and hope the Aussies can celebrate this monumental achievement with a series-clinching win at the GABBA this week. 

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