If Lyon roars first Test is there for the taking

As vital as Steve Smith is to Australia's hopes in the Ashes opener, so too must spin king Nathan Lyon recalibrate and step up after a desperately unlucky opening innings.

With a bowling attack that has claims on being the world's best, Australia may have been disappointed to concede a 90-run first-innings lead - especially with 74 of those runs coming via England's 9th and 10th wicket stands.

England's Moeen Ali has shown already in Australia's second innings that spin will play a huge part on days four and five, with the offspinner - considered several rungs below Lyon in terms of quality - landing an early blow with the dismissal of Cameron Bancroft.

 

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Moeen was even able to trouble the unflappable Steve Smith with a tricky spell, getting significant turn to the right-hander by hitting a dangerous channel wide of the off stump.

They are all factors which should have Lyon licking his lips, rather than kicking stones after what was a particularly frustrating couple of days despite finishing with figures of 3-112.

Until Lyon closed England's innings when a hobbled Jimmy Anderson swung for the fences - realising that even if big-hitting is not his game, it was preferable to putting his strained calf through the pain of the 22-yard stumble down the pitch for a single - he'd taken just two wickets from 262 balls.

In truth, he should've been rewarded with considerably more.

 

Rory Burns survived to post a huge score but Lyon’s dismissal of him showed there was turn on offer.
Rory Burns survived to post a huge score but Lyon’s dismissal of him showed there was turn on offer.

 

And not just because of Australia's failure to review Lyon's strong LBW shout which would have snared the wicket of Rory Burns for just 21 early on day two had it been sent upstairs.

If it felt like Lyon had been unlucky throughout England's three-day first innings - as the off-spinner himself would surely have been telling friends and colleagues after a frustrating, wicketless day on Friday night - it's because, quite simply, he was.

The 31-year-old drew 49 false shots from England's batsmen - comprised of 25 edges, and beating the bat 24 times - as Lyon routinely bamboozled opener Rory Burns and his unconventional, but seemingly impenetrable, technique.

 

 

On average, according to analysts CricViz, a wicket falls every 12 false shots in Test matches.

Even when including the scalp of a battling No. 11 batsman - as Anderson was in every sense of the word - Lyon's return of one wicket every 16 false shots falls comfortably below the Test norm.

Which is not to say Lyon bowled perfectly, either.

With his first delivery Lyon managed to get his stock ball to jag back sharply and nearly take the off stump of Joe Root - a stunning sight just 12 overs into day two.

Immediately the promise of a bagful of wickets for Lyon was tantalisingly present.

However, he bowled straighter than usual - with 29 per cent of his deliveries aimed at the stumps, compared to a career average of 20 per cent - which ignored the awkward channel outside off-stump.

For years the knock on Lyon was that he didn't have the quality to spin Australia to victory on wearing wickets.

Australia has chased the impossible - a replacement for Shane Warne - since 2006, and in Lyon they've got the closest thing imaginable.

Yet memories live large of a fatigued Lyon churning through 50 overs in the second innings against South Africa in Adelaide back in 2012, only for the Proteas to cling to a draw.

But in the years since he's become the fabled GOAT in the hearts and minds of Australian fans' - and the man who can shoulder the burden of a team who picked a former wicketkeeper at No. 6, a spot typically reserved for an all-rounder in Australian cricket.

This Test, and this series, Lyon has the chance to prove he's everything he promises to be: the pressure value, the wicket threat and, ultimately, the match-winner.