“How many did Lyon get in the second innings?” It’s a polite query. But you could not help but notice the perceptible change in John Bracewell’s tone as he delivers it with considerable elan. The Ireland coach was overseeing his team’s practice session ahead of their bilateral series against Afghanistan at the Greater Noida Stadium, but the 58-year-old’s mind wavers for a fleeting moment to the just concluded thrilling second Test between India and Australia at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. Among other things, it was Lyon’s performance that had piqued Bracewell’s interest. That did not come as a surprise as the Aussie was India’s nemesis in the first innings, returning with a career-best haul of 8/50. That was not the only reason though.
“Watching Lyon bowl is an incredibly thrilling experience. His style reminded me a lot of myself. He has a clean action, bowls outside off-stump and brings it back into the right-hander. He gets nice loop and has developed an over-spin ball which he uses to good effect,” Bracewell delivers.
The 58-year-old believes a traditional off-spinner like Lyon has benefited from the frequent trips he and his team have made to the sub-continent — a place that has, more often than not, proven to be the ultimate test for spinners from foreign shores. Lyon last visited India for the 2013 series, in which Australia were overwhelmed 4-0.
“Look at him. He is a far more improved and confident bowler than what he was during the 2013 series. The frequent trips to the sub-continent have helped him gain experience and add variety in his bowling,” Bracewell notes.
“Another aspect of his bowling is the subtle manner in which he varies his pace. He can now flight it and even fizz it off the turf almost at will. It just shows the kind of strides he had made as a bowler.”
Looking back, such frequent trips to the Indian sub-continent was something Bracewell missed when he plied his trade as a Kiwi off-spinner in the 1980s. His grouse is pretty legitimate. “I toured India only twice. Once during the 1987 World Cup, and then for the three-match Test series in 1988-89. That’s how much we had managed to tour India in a decade,” he sighs.
The Ireland coach winces, almost in disgust, every time you mention the term “1980s”. Despite the obvious moments of excellence on the cricket field (there were quite a few of them) in this period, he opines that the 80s was a period when cricket was amateurish and even a tad archaic. “Like most from our part of the world, touring India was a unique cultural experience, especially because we never used to travel that often. It’s so systematic now. In those days, we would travel in trains, and the tour was generally very chaotic and amateurish,” he says.
In many ways, the 80s was an era when T20 cricket was non-existent, and ODI cricket still thrilled you to bits. It was also the era when four of the finest all-rounders, all in their pomp, were the game’s poster boys. In the midst of this cacophony, Bracewell, a tall bloke from Auckland, plied his trade in international cricket as an extremely effective off-spinner possessing a classical high-arm action, and and innate ability to give the cricket ball a mighty whack.His international sojourn began against Australia in Brisbane in 1980. Over the next decade, he would feature in 41 Tests for New Zealand — accounting for over 100 scalps. In fact, the greatest attestation of his verve would be that all his three six-wicket hauls in Tests came in winning causes.
Of the three six-fors, Bracewell rates his 6/51 in the second Test at the Wankhede in the 1988-89 series as his favourite. The off-spinner capped the nostalgia quite dramatically. “That wicket spun viciously. India had a pretty competent spin attack comprising Maninder Singh and Arshad Ayub. Those guys were much different kind of spinners, as they would bowl quicker off the wicket, and would not give much loop to the ball. On the first day of that Test, my captain (John Wright) asked me to ball like them. I politely told him I cannot change my style overnight.” He would reap the rewards for sticking to his core strengths, and his six-wicket haul in the second innings helped the Kiwis register their first win on Indian soil.
More than Dilip Vengsarkar or Kapil Dev, it was Navjot Sidhu who had given Bracewell nightmares on that tour. “Sidhu would come off the blocks in a flash, and would belt you around. The moment you released the ball, he would be halfway down the track, staring at your throat,” he adds with a grin.
You would’ve thought that 102 scalps from 41 Tests was pretty meagre returns, but Bracewell believes he would have easily got another 60 if he had played today under the Decision Review System. Despite rating Lyon pretty highly, he lauds Ravichandran Ashwin for being dextrous and using the DRS to his own advantage.
“Ashwin is a contrasting bowler when you compare him to a Lyon. Both are essentially off-spinners, but Ashwin bowls more in the tramlines, and he gets the ball to skid and drop cleverly. He is very dextrous and is the best DRS bowler in the world because he bowls much straighter and hits the batsmen’s pads pretty regularly,” he concludes.
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