Australian off-spinner Nathan Lyon may have taken plenty of wickets before, but his long march to test dismissal number 400 in the first Ashes Test at the Gabba wasn’t easy.
Having missed out on the milestone in Australia’s last test series against India, which concluded in January this year, Lyon’s long wait extended until the fourth day of the Ashes opener. With banter flying around the changerooms, Lyon conceded the landmark was never far from his mind.
“I’m not one who’s big on personal milestones but I had a lot of my best mates in the changerooms asking me if I had the 400 on my shoes like Glenn McGrath,” Lyon said after Australia went 1-0 up in the Ashes with a crushing nine-wicket defeat of England.
“I had a lot of banter around me so it was on my mind a lot more, I’m one for saying the next wicket is always the hardest one to get.”
When it finally came, it was well worth the wait. In the opening forays of the fourth morning of the Gabba test, Lyon managed to bring England batter, Dawid Malan, forward, where an inside edge onto the pad bobbled up for Marnus Labuschagne to snare the milestone catch at bat-pad.
The off-spinner then followed it up with another three wickets as he played a crucial hand in destroying England’s hopes of resurrecting their horror start. In the afterglow of the win, Lyon admitted the milestone still hadn’t sunk in, and might not for quite some time.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet, to be honest, no doubt I’ll get phone calls from family and friends and it’ll hit a bit closer to home then,” he said.
“But it’s something I’m very proud of, there’s been some hard toil to get it but it’s very rewarding.”
Compared to other spinners who have travelled to Australia and taken on the hard conditions, Lyon is one of the few finger-spinners who have thrived on the harsh, unforgiving pitches. With many tweakers coming and going in the post-Warne era, Lyon has been the one spinner in world cricket to consistently take wickets at a good average. While others have had their careers ended during Australian summers, Lyon believes his homegrown skillset is the key to a great test career.
“My advantage is that I grew up on these conditions,” Lyon said.
“My keys are to get drift and drop and bounce, those are my strengths and what I believe in, so that’s what I’ll keep doing until I’m done.”
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Having spoken in the lead-up to the series about his special bond with former test wicket-keeper and captain Tim Paine, many wondered how the off-spinner would go with new gloveman Alex Carey assuming residence behind the stumps. With eight catches on debut to set a new record, Lyon couldn’t help but praise the South Australian for his clean and tidy performance.
“It’s been an incredible debut by him, I’m not surprised by it – I’ve watched him train and his lead-up has been world class,” Lyon said.
“Our relationship is only going to get bigger and better, it’s heading in the right direction; to debut in an Ashes series at the Gabba and take eight catches, I’m so proud of him.”
Lyon wouldn’t be blamed if he sat and back and smelt the roses after claiming such a lofty test milestone. Instead, the Australian mainstay showed why he has had such success in the toughest format of the game, immediately casting his eyes towards next week’s day-night showdown in Adelaide.
But it won’t come before Lyon can realise how monumental Australia’s day four efforts were to claim victory.
“This is how good test cricket is and why it’s the best format, you have ups and downs, and the opposition will hit back at some stage – I wasn’t surprised when England hit back hard, but we knew if we stayed calm then once we got one wicket we could jump on the back of it and ride it for a bit,” he said.
“There’s no big change for me heading into a pink ball test, it’s about my belief in my stock ball.”
“It’s worked for me for over 400 wickets now so I don’t think I’ll change that method.”
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