By Adam Collins in Chittagong
Nathan Lyon climbed nine spots on the wicket-takers list during the Bangladesh tour. (AP: AM Ahad)
Some days, cricket is about one thing only: the numbers.
Sure, our sport is proudly one of texture and nuance and all the rest. But when the moments come to dive deep within the spreadsheet columns, they should not be missed.
Nathan Lyon gave us one of those days yesterday. Indeed, he’s delivered a fortnight of them. For that, it’s only right that we devour every last decimal point. They punctuate a wonderful story.
Let’s start with the big ones: 22 and 13. The former: the number of wickets Lyon took in this series. Only one man, Rangana Herath has done better than that in a two Test tryst, Australia’s off-spinner finishing a single victim short of joining him.
Lyon’s match analysis of 13-154 is the second best for any Australian spinner, behind only Clarrie Grimmett who bagged himself 14-199 at Adelaide in 1932. But he is the first Australian bowler of any variety to nab 13 scalps in a match since Bruce Reid in 1990. Shane Warne never did.
Nathan Lyon is clapped off the ground after completing stunning match figures in Chittagong. (AP: AM Ahad)
With a second 10-wicket match, Lyon joins Hugh Trumble — who was the nation’s most prolific off-spinner before our protagonist passed him in 2015 — as the two Australian off-spinners to have delivered double-digit returns more than once.
Then there is the consistency: Lyon’s 6-60 on the final day in Chittagong the third time on the bounce he claimed six in an innings or better. Grimmett was again the only Australian there before (twice), but no-one else. As for Warne, he was the most recent to bank three five-fors in a row, that coming 13 years ago.
When Lyon arrived in Dhaka he had 247 Test wickets and was stationed 45th on the all-time list. He now has 269 next to his name, leapfrogging nine others across the four Bangladesh innings. Some of the new names in his rear-vision mirror? How about Richie Benaud, Graeme Swann, Jason Gillespie and Joel Garner.
By overtaking Benaud and Gillespie, Lyon is also now seventh on the Australian chart too, just another 22 away from passing Craig McDermott, the team’s bowling coach when Lyon won his baggy green. With four Tests left this year, he might also have him covered by the time 2018 comes.
Striking 46 times in seven Tests this year, no-one on the planet has done so more often. Until Thursday, dominant Indian duo Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin were the clubhouse leaders on 44 each. Not anymore. Also, both bowl with inferior averages and strike rates compared to Lyon in 2017, who is securing his wickets for 21.95 runs apiece, celebrating every 47 deliveries.
This has all come in a year that started days after Lyon woke up to reports during last summer’s Boxing Day Test that he was about to be sacked if something didn’t change fast. Earlier in the season, the Daily Telegraph ran a brutal back page highlighting the 540 balls it had been since his previous first-class wicket. Without question, he was out of form and favour.
Back in the middle of 2016, both coach Darren Lehmann and captain Steve Smith reflected on their dissatisfaction with Lyon’s output in Sri Lanka. But he survived the axe after their annihilation at Hobart because provisional replacement Steve O’Keefe injured himself at the worst possible time.
Hang on and thrive he has, Lyon’s Test average dropping nicer side of 32 for the first time since 2012. The ropey Asian mean of 44 he carried back with him when arriving in India in February has been turned on its head too, Lyon’s six subcontinent Tests since February landing 41 wickets at 19.4.
“Magnificent,” Smith said of his number one guy in the afterglow of Australia’s win, Lyon named joint Man of the Series with David Warner.
“I’m really proud of him and I think he’s come a long way, particularly in the subcontinent. To take 22 wickets in a two-match series is remarkable.”
Even Lyon, perhaps the least likely man in all of professional cricket to say something nice about himself, was willing to acknowledge the importance of it as well.
“To take 22 wickets in a two-match series it’s a pretty big achievement,” he said. That it is. They really are a beautiful set of numbers.