Ashes 2013-14: How Nathan Lyon the former groundsman turned out to be a cut above Graeme Swann

 

Sports News Correspondent

The last time England were in Adelaide for an Ashes Test, Graeme Swann, during pre-match nets, passed on a few words of advice to a young off-spinner, who was combining trying to make his way in the game with earning a living tending to the turf at the Adelaide Oval. It is a very different surface Swann will bowl on this week when the second Test gets under way and it is also a very different Nathan Lyon who will be pulling on a baggy green cap rather than the overalls of a groundsman.

The teams are still to assemble in South Australia but already there is a swirl of speculation over the surface that lies in store. Lyon knows the ground all too well but will have no more knowledge of the pitch on which he and Swann will bowl than his fellow off-spinner as the contest will be played on a drop-in wicket. For one and all here is a known unknown. Sheffield Shield games played in Adelaide this season have been on slow, steady surfaces, fuelling talk that England might field two spinners. Australia certainly won’t. They will field one front-line spinner and at last Lyon can be certain the job will be his.

Amid all the fire and brimstone in Brisbane, Lyon’s quietly effective performance offered as much encouragement to Michael Clarke and Australia’s brains trust as any. Clarke and the selectors have seemed slow to be convinced by Lyon, all too ready to look elsewhere, wanting a wild card rather than the steadiness of an unprepossessing off-spinner. Xavier Doherty, Ashton Agar and Fawad Ahmed have all caught their eye. In the last year, Lyon has been unceremoniously dumped out of the Test side for Doherty and Agar.

Prior to that, when he has played, particularly at home, his role was that of a stock bowler. He has been encouraged to shut up one end, and then accused of not being a wicket-taker. It came to a head against South Africa a year ago in Adelaide – he may have cut the grass there but could he cut it as a match-winner?

South Africa began the final day on 77 for 4 and Australia seeking a series-clinching victory. The spinning stage was set. The innings ended with the tourists eight down and Lyon having sent down 50 overs and taken 3 for 49. “He had been asked to do the wrong thing and he was doing it very well,” was how former Aussie spinner Stuart MacGill put it of Lyon’s perceived defensive role.

“I’ve learnt a fair amount playing a few Tests [in Adelaide],” said Lyon this week. “I’ve learnt a fair amount about my game and what I need to do and what I need to do to get better. Fingers crossed there’s a little bit more spin down there and we’ll see how we go.”

He has come and gone this year. He was dropped for Doherty mid-series in India. He was dropped for Agar for the first Ashes Test in England. Last week Agar was in Perth playing for Western Australia and picking up a fine for his response to having an appeal turned down (perhaps he thought a bit of abuse might hurry his return to the Test side). Lyon kept his cool in Brisbane, and, more significantly, out-bowled Swann.

It was the bounce he extracted at The Gabba that proved Lyon’s most effective weapon, but his ability to turn the ball should not be overlooked – his first ball in Test cricket saw him spin one on to Kumar Sangakkara’s edge, while in India this year he bowled Sachin Tendulkar through the gate.

After victory in Brisbane, it was Lyon who led the traditional singing of “Under the Southern Cross”. Mike Hussey passed the honour on to Lyon when he retired earlier this year.

Hussey had been appointed Lyon’s mentor by the then Australia coach Tim Nielsen for the spinner’s first tour in 2011. Hussey, a man who, in terminology to suit a groundsman, calls a spade a spade, liked what he saw. He has long been convinced Lyon has what it takes.

“He’s not going to be intimidated,” explained Hussey recently, “and he’s willing to stick to what he does, which when he gets it right is just beautiful.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones