Curse our stupid words. Fourteen months ago we were merrily ripping the piss out of both Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Lyon, even though the article in question was actually about Imran Tahir. The context of the piece was that Tahir – and as it turned out, Lyon – took a significant proportion of their wickets against the tail, hence their value to the side was inflated if they were judged solely on the quantum of wickets taken. Obviously since October 2012 there have been other factors that have increased Lyon’s worth, including his qualities as a groundsman, his dogged ability as a number eleven and his frankly astonishing singing voice. Seriously, if he’s not duetting with Kylie Minogue by Easter, something is definitely wrong with the world. But his knack of dismissing England’s batsmen is something else.
Since 1st November 2012 ten spinners have taken more than 20 Test wickets – and despite England’s best efforts, Bruce Martin isn’t one of them. Neither is Tahir, who at the time of writing, has ten wickets in this period including some Pakistani batsmen. But what about the Lyon? Previously, he’d taken 42 wickets, of which only 18 were batsmen from 1-7 in the order. But in the period since that calculation, he’s taken 59 more wickets, including 42 (71%) ‘proper’ batsmen.
|Name||Inns Bowled||Wickets||Bat 1-7||% Bat 1-7||Bat 8-11|
Now this sample size is probably too small to inspire much comparison between the players, especially with all players falling between 60 and 80%, which would be expected.
But the change in Lyon’s figures are surprising, with an increase from 43% to 71% of his wickets being top and middle order players (before Pedants Anonymous get in touch, we realise these statistics don’t account for nightwatchmen. And that ‘pedants’ should probably have an apostrophe). So just who are these players that Lyon is dismissing? Well, obviously English players for a start, given the number of times the teams have played recently: Kevin Pietersen (four times – caught twice in the deep, once via a leading edge to cover and once caught behind), Ian Bell (three times – once caught at short leg and twice caught at mid-off) and Joe Root (three times – twice caught top edging a sweep, once caught behind via the inside edge and pad). He’s also nabbed Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar three times out of three innings apiece (Kohli twice LBW and once caught at mid-on; Tendulkar twice LBW and once bowled) and Jacques Rudolph four times out of four. England have certainly under-estimated him and been affected by his bounce – he generally gets more over-spin than side-spin which accounts for the mishit shots by which England have often succumbed.
Of course, Australia have bowled collectively superbly. Johnson’s lightning bolts from one end have created pressure that others can exploit at the other, notably Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris. Meanwhile, Shane Watson has been able to slow down the scoring rate with maidens, which likewise generates pressure. England seem to have tried to attack Lyon but generally unsucessfully: his economy of 2.82 is the worse of the five bowlers but is much better than any of the opposition bowlers in the series.
Whilst we’re looking at dismissals, in the same period (i.e. since November 2012) Lyon’s teammates have the following record:-
Siddle – 63 wickets, 73% batsmen 1-7
Johnson – 46 wickets, 63% batsmen 1-7
Harris – 38 wickets, 71% batsmen 1-7
Starc – 31 wickets, 71% batsmen 1-7
Pattinson – 21 wickets, 81% batsmen 1-7
Bird – 13 wickets, 62% batsmen 1-7
Observant readers will note that we have not included John Hastings, 100% of whose Test wickets are AB de Villiers. James Pattinson has a very high proportion of batsmen amongst his wickets, but generally the top order wickets seem to be shared around the entire attack. What this leads us to conclude is that Lyon is still essentially a defensive bowler who Michael Clarke opts to use to retain control at one end – i.e. what Lyon has been for most of his career so far – but that when the team is massively outscoring the opposition and the fast bowlers are on form, players are forced to attack Lyon and his lines and lengths are good enough for this to lead to wickets. It’s just one of many mini-aspects that have contributed to Australia’s utter dominance. When he does get around to performing with Ms Minogue, it is he who will be the star attraction.