He had only two wickets in Brisbane last week when the fast bowlers dominated and was wicketless in Pakistan’s first innings in Adelaide, although he was unlucky not to have at least one.
Lyon knew on Monday that this was a day the home side would look to him to complete the kill on a flat pitch – and soft ball – not offering the quicks a great deal of assistance. The inclement weather meant there had been little sun to bake the pitch and offer up some appealing cracks, although the drop-in deck does not deteriorate here like the surfaces of yesteryear.
Before play Lyon went and had a chat with Warne, the latter revealing this discussion had largely been about straightening Lyon’s run-up. Warne had noted Lyon was struggling for rhythm.
“He was trying to work straight at the target. He has done it pretty well this match. He could have had a few wickets [on Saturday], bat pads, slips, stumpings – I thought he bowled pretty well. He was closer to the Nathan Lyon we have come to rely upon and see all that nice stuff,” Warne said on Fox Cricket.
That may have been true but it was still initially a struggle for Lyon on a day the home side had hoped to complete a 2-0 series victory with a minimum of fuss.
The tourists could have been forgiven for playing with a carefree flourish, for had they been dismissed cheaply the next stop was a flight home. Instead, opener Shan Masood (68) and Asad Shafiq (57) enjoyed a century stand, the latter troubling Lyon with his footwork. Whether it be going down the wicket to curb Lyon’s spin, dabbing around the corner off the back foot or sweeping, Shafiq heaped pressure on Lyon, as former Test batsman Mike Hussey noted.
Lyon, however, may not be in prime form but he does have more than 360 Test wickets of experience to call upon.
Test cricket is a patience game, and Lyon was prepared to be just that. The rewards came when Masood did exactly the opposite, losing patience when he stepped down the wicket and attempted to clear Mitchell Starc at mid off. The mistimed drive presented the fieldsman with a straightforward catch. Lyon was in the game again when, from around the wicket, he extracted some extra bounce, with Shafiq flicking to David Warner at leg slip.
Lyon’s afternoon continued to turn for the better after tea when, with turn and over spin, he had Iftikhar Ahmed caught at short leg and the scalps flowed from there, culminating in the 16th five-wicket haul of his career.
Skipper Tim Paine had nothing but praise for his frontline spinner.
“He was great. I think he bowled really well in the first innings and we just let him down, missed some chances off him,” he said.
“I think ‘Lyno’ today turned up and did exactly what we wanted him to do – that is take wickets, particularly in the second innings, and win us Test matches. I don’t think people understand how difficult it can be to get wickets with that pink ball, particularly during the day. For ‘Lyno’ to still be getting spin and bounce and challenging batsmen at all times and creating chances for our team is an unbelievable effort and why he is such a great bowler.”
The Australians will hope the chat with Warne has done the trick and Lyon has his action fine-tuned come the three-Test series against New Zealand, beginning in Perth next week. There is little pressure on him at this stage, for there are a dearth of potential replacements, another reason why Australia needs this Lyon to roar.
Jon Pierik is cricket writer for The Age. He also covers AFL and has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.