Well, this has been a turn up for the books now, hasn’t it? After crowing all last week in my self-assured and bulletproof “Lyon sucks” haven, it stood to reason that this balding combination of Stewie Griffin (a 2-year old cartoon character from Family Guy) + a Nerf pool football would pull the performance of his middling career out of his nigh-on empty bag of tricks to try shut me up. For the more casual cricket fans, Nathan Lyon took 8 wickets for 50 runs a week(ish) after I praised Australia’s second spinner Steven O’Keefe for taking 6 wickets in each innings of the first test.
This Lyon haul hasn’t worked, and here’s why:
It has been 813 days (aka 2 years, 2 months and 20 days), 28 Tests, 53 innings, 6,290 balls, 3,440 runs and 106 wickets between 5 wicket-hauls for our uncontested spinner. That’s 70,243,200 seconds!
His fans love to bleat about “latest and fullest” and “most wickets” for Australia, but the notion that X amount of wickets means more than averages is nonsense (within reason, scoring a hundred then promptly retiring isn’t reasonable either), and here’s a simple example as to why: Alistair Cook has almost twice the runs Bradman had, does that make him better? The answer, if you’re still struggling with that terrible “oh shit that’s a great point, I never thought of that but am too stubborn to admit I’m wrong” feeling (something you’ll have to get used to if you continue to read on as a blind Lyon supporter), is a resounding “NO!”
Here’s some names that were playing the last time Lyon took 5+ wickets in an innings (and, to be fair to him, he took 12 wickets in this match, albeit for a hideous amount of runs  and at a frankly embarrassing economy of 4.1 runs an over):
- Chris Rogers
- Shane Watson
- Michael Clarke
- Brad Haddin
- Mitch Johnson
- Peter Siddle
- Ryan Harris
That’s 7 out of the 10 other players in the team who’ve since retired since Lyon did anything properly noteworthy slash his (well-paid, super-fun) JOB.
“Yeah but he chips in with handy wickets regularly” you say? Oh OK, let’s disprove that then, shall we?
Including this Test match, Lyon’s numbers when bowling to the top 4 in any side (no matter how awful they are as a test nation) are: 78 wickets for 3,601 runs @ 46.2 runs per wicket. That’s also less than a third of his total of 241 wickets, this is relevant because as a bowler your aim is to get the best batsmen out, remember? That average is around a VVS Laxman, remember how good he was?
Additionally, and conversely, Lyon soars when bowling to the tail (which has some [substantially smaller/lesser] benefits, but when you’ve got Hazlewood and Starc it’s far less useful as they are superb to the tail [aka numbers 8-11 in the batting order]): 82 wickets for 832 runs @ 10.1 runs per wicket. That’s more than a third of his total wickets bowling to varying degrees of bunnies…
This reaffirms – in lovely black and white – the theory I’ve always held that Clarke padded the absolute shit out of Lyon’s numbers by buying him cheap wickets to keep him in the team/justify his spot.
That means when bowling to the “middle” of an innings (batting positions 5-7) he’s taken 81 wickets for 3,460 runs @ 42.7 runs per wicket.
Thus, whenever Lyon is bowling to anyone who is even partly-paid to perform with the bat he has total numbers of 159 wickets for 7,061 runs at the average of 44.4 runs per wicket. Mark Waugh averaged under 43 runs per wicket with the bat and had a very successful Test career, and is in our “Hall of Fame”, just for yet another healthy dosage of reality and perspective.
And for those who say “yeah but he rarely gets to bowl on the subcontinent/in helpful conditions” there’s this for you: Lyon has 55 wickets for 1,912 runs at an average of 34.8 in the subcontinent (Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the U.A.E.), conditions where his peers flourish.
Rangana Herath has 281 wickets in the SC at 25.5, Yasir Shah has 97 at 24.8, R Ashwin has 221 at 22.0, Ravi Jadeja has 104 at 20.5! No other spinner in any other teams has been around as long as Lyon or these lads, or are properly established in their teams, hence their exclusion.
So he’s almost 10 runs per wicket worse off than his closest peer in what are obviously more favourable conditions for spinners.
“Yeah but he does well at home then” (thanks for continuously shifting your goalposts, I’ll allow it that I may step on this one also): 118 wickets at 34.6 in his motherland.
“England then?”: 25 wickets at 30.2 (not bad, still over 30 and barely 10% of his career haul).
“Africa?”: 12 at 36.0 (middling, once again).
“Umm…OK then, West Indies?”: 21 wickets @ 23.4, something you can sort of cling to (it is only 8.7% of his career haul though, and then there’s those lopsided tail-mopping numbers, too).
Let’s get one thing straight here, before I go – I do not dislike Lyon as a bloke and would never question his efforts for, or loyalty and commitment to the Australian side, and, from all reports, he’s a bloody top-class lad and helps the team harmony in large quantities. I also don’t believe he’s a BAD player, all jokes and exaggerations/troll-bait aside, I know he’s not a BAD player. He’s not good, either, and is barely average.
It’s just that, any way you slice it and over a very long time (notwithstanding his recent haul in India, which was great and I was happy for him in his taking thereof), he’s simply a very average player whose essentially unchallenged spot in the Australian side, as Usman Khawaja sits on the bench after a wonderful home summer, is baseless and wrong. SOK has proven, in the scattered and scarce opportunities he’s had, that he’s a better spinner in that he’s outperformed Lyon in every test they’ve played together (barring this one).
He also has an FC average that is around 15 runs per wicket superior, and has outperformed Lyon in every Shield game they’ve played together and against one another. And he bats at almost 30 in Shield.
Pointing at a broken clock which happens to be showing the right time at a particular moment of the day as evidence that it is just as good as a fully-functioning clock is fundamentally flawed (i.e. saying “8/50 proves you wrong and that’s all there is to it now, so move on” is nonsense), and that’s why I’m not overly moved or forthcoming in conceding anything other than when I take a closer look at Lyon’s career I’m even more depressed and confused in his constant selection…
Points I’ve argued:
- Lyon is an average spinner
- SOK’s number are far better in FC (side-by-side and as foes), Tests (outbowled in every test they’ve played together barring this as yet unfinished one)
- Lyon doesn’t perform particularly well at home or in favourable conditions
- Lyon’s largely unchallenged spot in the team is unfounded, given his most direct competitor, especially given that far superior players like Khawaja (who actually perform largely and regularly, not dismantling bunnies) are not exempt from the axe or “horses for courses” mentality
- 8/50 is great, and broke a few records, it’s also his first notable contribution (by the fact that 5 wicket-hauls are the benchmark for outstanding performances in Test cricket and have been since time in memorium) for 813 days and 28 Tests and 53 trips to the bowling crease
- If he can actually perform regularly (5-fas twice a year, better numbers against batsmen) I’ll be happy that he’s improved and feel that it’ll further justify his position (new point, but an important one to note)
- So long as SOK continues to also perform (they’ve both got 13 wickets apiece in this series) Lyon should not be guaranteed anything
Here’s to the next 813 days of drought-stricken, tail-padding, mediocre spin that is survived by a meme and people’s scant abilities to set aside emotion from fact and be able to read numbers at all well.
I’ll be waiting.
And if he takes another bag this test or in the immediate future, he’ll need to continue to do so for the remainder of his career (and by dismissing actual batsmen within those very regular 5-fas) or I’ll (correctly) never concede anything to him, Jason Gillespie hit 201* in a Test match, nobody then crowed that he was a batsman.
Lyon takes 8/50 after a monstrous gap, I’ll not remark anything other than aberrations happen and that unless he does it regularly enough to sync up with his presently far superior peers he’ll always be mediocre in my eyes, and rightly/unarguably so.
TL;DR – Lyon’s numbers still blow, and I’m right and you’re wrong.