These are unusual days when an analysis of 1 for 99 from 26 overs is sufficient to strengthen a bowler’s prospects of a Test recall.
Nathan Lyon could have done more, much more, to stake a claim to bowl on what is expected to be a dry and abrasive surface at Old Trafford this week. But on a tour in which Australia are becoming increasingly grateful for small mercies, the off-spinner’s performance against Sussex may be compelling enough to add him to the third Test attack.
The figures themselves are not representative of how well Lyon bowled as Sussex, boosted by special guest James Taylor’s unbeaten century, edged two runs past the Australians’ first innings total to 368 for 7 before the mandatory declaration at 100 overs. Taylor survived several lives during an ordeal that lasted nearly six hours in making 121 not out. Lyon beat Taylor comprehensively through the air when the jockey-sized batsman was on 90, only to have Ashton Agar spill the offering at mid-on.
The pair may be rivals for a bowling position at Old Trafford; equally they may be partners if Australia decide to replace injured paceman James Pattinson with a spin option.
Phil Hughes gave the Australian selectors more issues to ponder when he added 38 to his first up 84, while Ed Cowan secured a second half-century, but David Warner’s return appears inevitable and the discussion may be moot.
Chris Jordan missed the chance to become the first bowler in England to 50 first-class wickets this season but his brutal opening spell, to complement a crisp and correct 47 and his neat work at slip, indicates a player, who, at 24, may be ready for a greater role on the national stage.
Lyon has paid a high price for his innocuous and bland 50-over performance at Adelaide in the Australian summer when he could not winkle out South Africa in five sessions on a helpful pitch.
The last 10 overs of that marathon stint were maidens but that spoke eloquently of the lack of variety and threat in Lyon’s bowling against batsmen content to simply keep him out as the clock wound in their favour.
That lack of confidence continued to India, where Lyon was dropped after one match, and was evident on this tour when he failed to stay in the team ahead of an untried 19-year-old, despite claiming nine wickets in the last Test of that shambolic experience on the subcontinent.
While Lyon’s technique entered the same diminishing spiral as his confidence, the first innings against Sussex revealed signs that he had regained some of the traits that forced his rapid elevation through State ranks for South Australia and the capture of 76 Test wickets.
Hit out of the attack by Rory Hamilton-Brown in his first spell here, Lyon returned to bowl with significantly better rhythm yesterday. His natural loop had returned and with it the sharp drop that preyed on the unwary advances of batsmen coming down the pitch to drive.
Teenage debutant Callum Jackson helped himself to a straight six but immediately paid the price for not assessing the follow-up delivery with the same intensity. Lyon was not helped by wicketkeeper Matthew Wade, whose prospects of replacing Brad Haddin in the short term appear unlikely given the wooden nature of his glovework and his first-innings duck.
Agar had little to do on the final day of the match, delivering six overs at three runs apiece, while attention turned to the prospects of the other Ashton having a role to play at all. Ashton Turner did not bat in either innings but was finally called to the bowling crease as the innings wound down.
His fate was not to be that of Tasmanian Roy Brain, who made his debut against the touring MCC team in Hobart in 1958, only to be denied any part in the action during the rainy match. But Brain must have impressed someone because he was included in the Combined XI to play the visitors a week later and managed to add a duck to his meagre record before his first-class career ended with as much of a splash as his arrival.