Since his debut seven years ago, Nathan Lyon has featured in only 20 ODIs for Australia. As that number suggests, it’s been a largely sporadic and underwhelming career so far.
During this period, however, he has taken rapid strides as a frontline long-format spinner. In his whites, the Canberra native is a different beast altogether, bringing into play his trusted skills like flight, turn, bounce and a vicious dip that can con even some of the best batsmen into submission.
Intriguingly, Lyon has not quite managed to replicate his performances in the shorter formats, more specifically in ODIs. While it’s true that the selectors have been reluctant to try him in this format, Lyon, on his part, has often looked a pale shadow of himself whenever he dons the vibrant yellow jersey.
After another productive summer back home, where he asserted himself in the six Tests – four against India and two against Sri Lanka – there was speculation about including him for the limited-overs series against India and Pakistan.
After much deliberation, the selectors decided to give the 31-year-old one last shot to establish himself in a format where success has eluded him. Lyon knew that a good show would put him back in the reckoning for Australia’s World Cup party.
Australia also have Adam Zampa, the blonde leg-spinner, taking tentative steps back into the shorter formats after 18 months in the wilderness. The 26-year-old would not want to relive the torrid time he had endured during his previous visit to India in September 2017, where he was smoked for seven runs per over in three matches, even as he prised out four scalps.
As the five-match ODI series came to an end at the Feroz Shah Kotla, both Lyon and Zampa would board the flight to the UAE with their confidence fully restored. The duo had everything to play for coming into this fixture – the series was poised at 2-2 – and Australia had mustered a formidable score of 272/9.
For India, the chase was fundamentally built upon their swashbuckling trio in the form of openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma and captain Virat Kohli. Despite an early burst from the impressive Pat Cummins, who accounted for Dhawan early, the onus fell of the Australian spin twins to scuttle the Indian chase.
Lyon was brought into the attack in the 12th over. The veteran started from round the wicket. Very often in his short ODI career, the off-spinner has shown the propensity to start on such a defensive note, content to just slow the scoring rate. But he soon reverted to bowling over the wicket, which brought him back into the game.
Flight and dip
The Kotla wicket was sluggish and slowing down with every passing over. On cue, Lyon brought out his dreaded flight and dip to quell the Indian stroke-makers, who were undecided over whether to attack or defend. After conceding nine runs in his opening over, he settled into a nice rhythm, exploiting the conditions to the hilt. He dismissed Rishabh Pant in his fourth over with a delightful delivery; it had ample flight, enough to draw the wicketkeeper-batsman forward, the deadly drop followed by vicious turn that elicited a healthy edge to Ashton Turner at slip. It was a delivery he would have bowled on Day 1 of a Test match.
Lyon’s effectiveness helped Zampa at the other end. He did receive a bit of tap in his first three overs as Sharma and Vijay Shankar tried to unsettle his line by using their feet. Had this been 2017, Zampa would have instantly pressed the panic button. On Wednesday evening, he didn’t get flustered by the early onslaught. Instead, he brought in all the experience gained with the Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League, and his preceding county stint with Essex last year under the tutelage of Trent Woodhill.
At the Kotla, Zampa unleashed a clever mix of googlies and skidders to telling effect, orchestrating the dismissals of Sharma, Shankar and Ravindra Jadeja in the space of four overs. It was this double spin attack in the middle overs that effectively derailed India’s chase.
At the end of his spell, Lyon’s figures read: 10-1-34-1. He did not pick wickets in a heap, as he often does in Test matches. Nevertheless, his parsimonious, yet effective, display did send out a timely reminder to the selectors of his utility in the run-up to the showpiece event in England.
Zampa finished with 3/46, taking his series tally to 11 scalps. At the end of the Australian summer, the duo’s place in this Australian ODI team was in doubt. But in the space of a fortnight, they have done their bit to change that perception.