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Comment: Is Nathan Lyon destined to take 400 Test wickets?

The Roar logo The Roar 30-08-2015 Glenn Mitchell
Lyon went past Hugh Trumble’s 111-year-old Australian finger-spinning record of 144 scalps in the Caribbean in June. And having been picked almost on spec in 2011 after having made just seven first-class appearances, he is in the best form of his career. © Getty Images Lyon went past Hugh Trumble’s 111-year-old Australian finger-spinning record of 144 scalps in the Caribbean in June. And having been picked almost on spec in 2011 after having made just seven first-class appearances, he is in the best form of his career.

Following Shane Warne’s retirement at the end of the 2006-07 Ashes series, Australian cricket was desperate to find a regular spin bowler.

Replacing Warne was always going to be an impossible task as he was a once in a multi-generation player.

Warne’s contemporary Stuart MacGill, at 18 months younger, was seen as a short-term stop gap. As it turned MacGill managed just four more Tests before being forced into retirement by injury.

Still, there was a belief that at least an ongoing, viable option could be located from among Australia’s first-class ranks.

But from June 2008, spinners largely came and went as if a revolving door had been installed.

In the time since Warne hung up the boots the national selectors chose 14 spinners in less than eight years:

MatchesWicketsAverage
Stuart MacGill41065.1
Brad Hogg3860.1
Beau Casson1343
Cameron White4568.4
Jason Krejza21343.2
Nathan Hauritz165836.2
Bryce McGain100
Steve Smith5373.3
Xavier Doherty4778.3
Michael Beer2359.3
Nathan Lyon4616234.1
Glen Maxwell3738.7
Ashton Agar22124
Steve O’Keefe1454.7

Only Hauritz (16 Tests) and Lyon (46) managed to make more than five appearances – Smith has gone on to play 33 Tests but his return to the side in 2013 was as a batsman.

Lyon was the 11th chosen in the post-Warne era and, despite doubts expressed through the early part of his tenure, he has become a key element in Australia’s attack.

Since Warne left the scene, the 13 specialist spinners other than Lyon played a combined total of 48 Tests for 123 wickets at 49.6. Those aggregate figures paint Lyon’s 46-Test haul of 162 wickets at 34.1 in a very favourable light.

Outgoing skipper Michael Clarke was a strong ally and he possessed the intuitive sense to work with his off-spinner with respect to setting fields. Lyon hope Smith continues the trend.

History indicates that off-spin bowling in Australian conditions has never been easy – both Harbhajan Singh and Muttiah Muralitharan averaged over 70 runs per wicket on Australian pitches.

Down through the years it has been the leg-spinners who have made the most of Australian conditions.

Warne (708 wickets), Richie Benaud (248), Clarrie Grimmett (216) and MacGill (208) lead the way on the all-time wicket-taking list.

Lyon went past Hugh Trumble’s 111-year-old Australian finger-spinning record of 144 scalps in the Caribbean in June. And having been picked almost on spec in 2011 after having made just seven first-class appearances, he is in the best form of his career.

His 16 wickets at 28.2 in the Ashes series followed eight wickets at 19.2 in the two Tests against the West Indies.

His control and penetration has improved markedly in the past 12 months with his eight Tests this year resulting in 24 wickets at 25.2.

Testament to how far he has come was his dismissal of England captain Alastair Cook on Day 2 of the final Test at The Oval.

Ahead of the 2013 Ashes series Cricket Australia did all it could to fast-track the citizenship of Pakistan-born leggie Fawad Ahmed, however while he qualified to play in that series he did not make the cut.

Then on the back of an outstanding Sheffield Shield season Ahmed was selected for the current England tour, but his form in the county matches was far from impressive.

The selectors will continue to search for a leg-spinner, with youngsters James Muirhead, Cameron Boyce and Adam Zampa all in the frame for future selection.

At present Lyon is well entrenched in the side and it will take some significant improvement from others who covet the role to displace him.

Lyon is well on the way to forging an extremely significant Test career. The fact that he is currently not seen as a limited-overs bowler by the selectors will keep him fresh for the longer form of the game.

It is well worth remembering that Graeme Swann, who rose to great heights with England, did not debut at Test level until he was 29 years and eight months old. He went on to play 60 Tests, capturing 255 wickets at 30.0.

Lyon does not turn 28 until 20 November.

Should he continue at the current rate, he will likely have around 210 wickets at the same age that Swann was beginning his Test career.

There is every prospect that come the end of his career Lyon could have over 400 Test wickets, a performance that would place him among the best-performed bowlers in Australia’s storied cricket history.

Not bad for a bloke who was seemingly chosen to simply fill a gaping hole.

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