Nathan Lyon is looming as a contender for an Australian World Cup berth as the hosts consider the need for more dangerous wicket-taking options through the middle of an ODI innings.
Much as the captain Steven Smith has admitted Australia must consider following England’s unbridled batting example after their record chase at the MCG, so too has the spotlight been cast on the role of spin in the team. Lyon has generally been considered surplus to requirements in one-day cricket, but his combination of wicket-taking threat and economy are ramping up pressure on the incumbents Adam Zampa and Travis Head.
After a strong start to his international career, Zampa’s returns have tailed off over the past 12 months, and he was dropped for Ashton Agar during last year’s limited-overs tour of India. “It was definitely a wake-up call,” Zampa had said before Sunday’s first ODI. “I’m really keen to get out there and show that I’ve been working on a few things. I really want to cement my spot in this team. I feel like I’m on edge a little bit at the moment and I think that’s probably a good thing.”
At the same time, Lyon’s adaptability has improved appreciably, whether in Asian conditions or in terms of varying his pace and length in the shorter forms. This development was epitomised by figures of 3 for 18 for Sydney Sixers on Tuesday night, an effort that came following a one-on-one session with his longtime mentor Darren Berry. Looking ahead to the World Cup, Lyon said he could earn his way in by strong displays in all forms.
“Every opportunity you get to go out there and play cricket, whether it’s NSW, Sixers, grade cricket or for Australia in Test matches I think you’ve just got to keep going out there and performing well,” Lyon said. “I had a really good bowl with Darren Berry actually before this game [against Melbourne Stars] to go through a few basics, and did that at the start of last year with the same corresponding game and that seemed to pay dividends last year, so hopefully I can keep going out and keep bowling well, that’s my goal.
“I’ve got to keep trying to get better each and every time I go out to train, so I’m very happy with the way the ball’s coming out of my hand and if I can keep putting my hand up for selection but also keep having an impact on games of cricket that’s my main goal, trying to win games of cricket whoever I play for.
“I’m still learning in Twenty20 cricket, still learning at Test match cricket. There’s a lot of areas I can still offer [more] to the game, in saying that I’m still learning, I learned a few things out there [last night], it’s just about trying to get better and better each and every time I go out there to one, train, but also to play. If I can keep having impact in games of cricket that’s the main thing for me.”
My best ball went for six on Saturday [against Sydney Thunder]. Test-match length can hurt you in T20 cricket but you’ve got to be able to adapt
Though he first made his name in Australian cricket as a T20 bowler for South Australia in the final summer of the state-based Big Bash in 2010-11, Lyon’s efforts to become a more challenging proposition in the shorter forms of the game ramped up in 2015-16 when he worked with Berry, John Davison and Shane Watson to try to make the squad for the World T20 in India. Those sessions gave rise to Lyon’s oft-used phrase “bowl ugly”, something he did to get through Kevin Pietersen, Ben Dunk and Peter Handscomb at the MCG.
“My best ball went for six on Saturday [against Sydney Thunder]. Test-match length can hurt you in T20 cricket but you’ve got to be able to adapt,” Lyon said. “The best players in the world adapt to different scenarios and different wickets and different games, so that’s one area I’m trying to get better at.
“The ball before Kevin Pietersen swept me for a decent shot so then I changed my field, so that changed his plan as well. That ball I was only trying to bowl into his hip to get him off strike and bowl to the left-hander, so it’s just those little moments in the games where you need to try to execute your plan in T20 cricket.
“The big thing in T20 is if you’ve got your plans right you can go and execute to the best of your ability. Sometimes you’re going to be hit for six, sometimes you’re going to take wickets or bowl dot balls, it’s just about making sure you’re committing to your plan. I was lucky enough to commit to most of my plans there and got the rewards.”
As usual, Lyon has nominated for the IPL auction, and his displays in Asia in 2017 should mean he attracts more interest than previously. Brendon McCullum, the Brisbane Heat captain, said Lyon’s IPL status was an intriguing question for Cricket Australia. “I’ve got no doubt he’d go over there and do very, very well,” McCullum said on Ten’s BBL coverage. “What he has in terms of skillset with the ball would be a huge weapon in the IPL. [But] he’s too much of a valuable asset for the Australian cricket side. He’s got a lot of overs to bowl moving forward. He’s such a valuable asset that you don’t want to risk him.”
Australia’s next ODI assignment after this series is another five-match encounter with England during the northern summer, an opportunity for the national selectors to audition players under much the same conditions they will face during the 2019 World Cup.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
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