Nathan Lyon has 408 Test wickets to his name, but the Australian off-spinner is still working on improving his craft.
Since he passed the long-awaited 400-wicket milestone at the Gabba earlier this month, Lyon has been impeccable with ball in hand.
The 34-year-old is currently the leading wicket-taker of the 2021/22 Ashes alongside Australian teammate Mitchell Starc with nine scalps in two Tests.
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But despite everything he has achieved in the Test arena, Lyon still cops criticism for his lack of variation.
“Can SOMEONE please smack Lyon?!?! FFS!” former England batter Kevin Pietersen posted to Twitter during the Adelaide day-night Test.
“Off spinner with zero variations and bowling on world cricket’s flattest road!”
Pietersen was ridiculed for the brash remarks, and rightly so, but the three-time Ashes winner does call attention to a lingering flaw in Lyon’s repertoire.
Lyon’s stock ball has served him well over the years, but the right-hander doesn’t have much else in his arsenal.
In 2012, the tweaker dismissed South Africa’s Jacques Rudolph with mystery delivery “Jeff”, which spun into the left-handed batter and struck him on the front pad.
But “Jeff” has rarely made an appearance since.
While India’s Ravichandran Ashwin has a plethora of variation deliveries at his disposal – including the famous “carrom” ball – Lyon has kept things simple, relying on his stock off-spinner for wickets in the game’s longest format.
“He’s got 399 wickets without much variation,” former Australian Test captain Ricky Ponting told cricket.com.au earlier this summer.
“He hasn‘t got a great carrom ball, he hasn’t got a great under-cutter, he hasn’t got a doosra … there‘s not many other variations an off-spinner can have, and that’s why it makes his career even more remarkable.
“His consistency and his ability to build pressure is what has stood him apart from the rest.
“Yes, he‘s bowled some magnificent wicket-taking deliveries but when he’s at his best, he’s just relentless with the areas that he bowls and the fields that he sets.
“He doesn‘t need any more variations, he just needs to make sure that his off-spinner, that he’s drifting and spinning it and he’s landing it where he wants to.
“If he does that, he’s hard for anyone to face.”
However, eagled-eyed cricket fans noticed Lyon was developing an under-cutter during the second Ashes Test at Adelaide Oval.
While a regulation off-spinner typically rotates with the seam pointing vertically, an under-cutter is delivered with the bowler’s wrist cocked back rather than upright, making the ball’s seam tilt horizontally like a frisbee.
As a result, the ball will skid on with the angle if it lands on the leather, providing natural variation off the pitch.
It’s a dangerous weapon in the sub-continent, where Ashwin and Axar Patel embarrassed England’s batter earlier this year.
Australia is scheduled for three Test tours in Asia in 2022, and Lyon is already preparing for the sub-continent’s dusty tracks.
Lyon’s under-cutter also made an appearance during last summer’s Test series against India – during the fourth match in Brisbane, he dismissed opener Shubman Gill with a full delivery that held its line, the outside edge flying to Steve Smith at first slip.
The variation ball still needs work, but he’ll be a huge threat in India next year if he can master it over the coming nine months.
“He doesn’t need a lot of variation,” former Australian batter Michael Hussey told Cricbuzz earlier this week.
“He’s just got to keep spinning the ball hard and getting it in that right area, and the pitch is doing enough for him. There’s enough turn, there’s enough bounce, there’s enough natural variation for him to be in the game.
“He’s just been really relaxed since breaking through that 400-wicket barrier, and got his confidence up, and now he’s bowling beautifully.”
The third Ashes Test between Australia and England gets underway at the MCG on Sunday, with the first ball scheduled for 10.30am AEDT.