Mitchell Starc is in career-best Test form and Pat Cummins is the No. 1 bowler in the world, and their efforts as part of effectively a three-man attack was outstanding in Perth. But Australia’s victory was another triumph for Nathan Lyon.
Claiming the final wicket, when Tim Southee edged to slip, gave him six in the match, took his tally at Perth Stadium to 14 wickets in two outings, and followed the 5 for 69 in the second innings against Pakistan in Adelaide. It was in harsh contrast to the returns of New Zealand’s main spinner, Mitchell Santner, who had match figures of 0 for 146 from 41 overs.
Lyon was always likely to play a key role on a surface that offered him turn, and – crucially – bounce, but he became a lifeline for Australia’s depleted bowling unit as they hunted the 19 further wickets they needed after Josh Hazlewood’s injury. “Gaz, you lock in from one end and we’ll rotate from the other end,” Lyon said of the fairly simple chat the bowlers had.
In the end, Australia only needed 121 overs to dismantle New Zealand twice, but Lyon’s effectiveness meant Tim Paine knew he could trust him with one end to ensure he could get the best out of Starc and Cummins.
Lyon removed three of New Zealand’s batting pillars: Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Tom Latham. All were outstanding pieces of offspin bowling. The contest with Taylor, which began on the second evening, was absorbing, with Lyon eventually teasing an outside edge. Williamson gloved to short leg when Lyon’s first ball of the second innings reared off a length, and Latham was trapped lbw by one that slid on from around the wicket.
I can talk to Marnus [Labuschagne] as a second spinner but there’s great cricket conversations where I’m learning off him, he’s talking to me about the batters’ mindset and I’m talking about it more like a bowlers’ mindset
“Ross has been a world-class player from a long period of time now. He wanted to take me on to probably reduce how many balls he had to defend off me with the variable bounce and the amount of bounce I was able to get out there. It was a great battle,” Lyon said. “I love being able to have those little battles when one of the best batters in the world wants to take you down and hit you out of the attack, it can be challenging, but I’m never going to shy away from one, so it’s pretty special.
“I’m very happy with the way the ball is coming out of my hand at the moment, very confident with my stock ball and the more stock balls I’m able to put in that good area and challenge the defence, I’m going to be pretty happy with that. My best ball will hopefully challenge a lot of guys around the world.”
Lyon is two bowlers in one for Australia and that’s vital at a time when the debate around allrounders has started again, as it often does at this time of the year when Test series move to the traditionally flatter surfaces of Melbourne and Sydney. When Hazlewood went down, Paine said he did look around the field wishing for an allrounder, but knew in Lyon he still had a trump card.
Various combinations for the final two Tests of the series have already mooted – Justin Langer has hinted at the possibility of a five-man attack with four quicks for Melbourne – and Hazlewood’s replacement will be confirmed on Tuesday.
Potential allrounder candidates Mitchell Marsh and Cameron Green are not available, although Marcus Stoinis could be an outside chance and Paine also name-checked Moises Henriques, who has had a terrific season with the bat for New South Wales but doesn’t bowl as much as he used to. With no obvious candidate available, Australia have to “find other ways to win”, as Langer termed it. What Lyon gives them is therefore key, providing both an attacking and defensive role as part of a four-man attack.
“The workload doesn’t worry me at all,” Lyon said. “I love bowling and want the ball in my hand every opportunity I get. I’m just lucky I’m part of the best bowling squad in the world. It’s pretty special. If I have to bowl a lot of overs, I’ll do whatever it takes for the team.”
In terms of adding balance to the side, the role of Marnus Labuschagne’s legspin is becoming increasingly important. He spun a sharp legbreak through Santner in the first innings in Perth, and he and Lyon are starting to work as a pair.
“I’ve played enough cricket now to hopefully pass on a bit of advice here and there but I think Marnus’ whole game has come a long way,” Lyon said. “I can talk to Marnus as a second spinner but there’s great cricket conversations where I’m learning off him, he’s talking to me about the batters’ mindset and I’m talking about it more like a bowlers’ mindset.”
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
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