The Cricketer
Huw Turbervill Huw Turbervill

IS NATHAN LYON AUSTRALIA'S GREATEST OFF-SPINNER?

WHERE DOES LYON RANK ON THE LIST OF AUSTRALIAN OFFIES?

Nathan Lyon has spearheaded Australia’s victory push in the second Test in Bengaluru. Numerically he is their most prolific off-spinner… but is he their greatest?

This is his 64th Test. At the end of the first innings – in which he took a stunning 8 for 50 on day one – he had taken 233 wickets at 33.66. Not bad work for the former ground curator, the unfancied successor to Shane Warne (and even Stuart MacGill).

He will never surpass Warne’s 708, but at 29, he is on course for a very healthy tally indeed.

Not many fancied him when he was picked. Australia also tried Nathan Hauritz and Jason Krejza (both offies), and Michael Beer and Xavier Doherty (slow lefties). Gradually, however, Lyon won over his captains and the critics.

In his first Test innings he took 5 for 34 at Galle in August 2011. That was followed by 7 for 94 in Delhi in March 2013, 5 for 50 against England at the MCG that December and 7 for 152 against India at Adelaide 12 months later.

He bowls an attacking line outside offstump and gives it a decent tweak, but his average is a bit high. Higher than some of the great predecessors who have bowled offies for Australia. Who do you think was the greatest?

Hugh Trumble (1880–1904) 141 wickets at 21.78 apiece. He was tall and thin, and bowled close to medium pace. He had long fingers, and had the advantage of bowling on wet wickets, when he was often virtually unplayable.

Monty Noble (1898–1909) 121 at 25. His off-spin was quite quick, and his swerve often befuddled the English. Didn’t just bowl spin, though. Also some seam. He was also a fine batsman. A genuine allrounder.

Ian Johnson (1946–56) 109 at 29.19. Dismissed Len Hutton with his third ball in Tests. Liked bowling a lot of overs and was so deadly against the tail (the rabbits) his nickname was Myxomatosis.

Ashley Mallett (1968–80) 132 at 29.84. Gideon Haigh described him as “gangling” and “teasing”. He was tall and found considerable bounce. Wanting a slice of World Series Cricket action, Kerry Packer challenged him to dismiss him twice in one over to earn a contract.

Bruce Yardley (1978–83) 126 at 31.63. Started life as a medium-pacer, and although he switched to offies, they remained quickish. Unusually he rolled the ball off his middle finger rather than the customary index finger.

Tim May (1987–1995) 75 at 34.74. My personal favourite. I had never seen an offie bowl such an attacking line, after years of watching English offies bowl darts at leg stump. May attacked off stump and was the perfect sidekick to Warne on the 1993 Ashes tour, taking 21 wickets at 28.19 to Warne’s 34 at 25.79.