With his five-wicket match haul against Pakistan in the home season’s opening game in Perth, Nathan Lyon has scripted his name alongside seven other bowlers to have bagged 500-plus wickets in Test cricket. Only two other Australians have achieved the milestone before him – Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. Lyon enters the 500 Test wickets club to increase the tally of spinners to four, joining Muttiah Muralidaran, Warne and Anil Kumble.
It took a while for Lyon to reach here, needing 123 Tests, by far the most among the four spin bowlers. Being a non-Asian spinner and often playing with a three-man potent pace-bowling unit has given Lyon fewer wicket-taking opportunities. However, Lyon has taken 24.04% of the wickets picked by the Australian bowlers in the matches he played. Only three non-Asian spinners with 150-plus wickets since 1980 have picked up a higher share of the team’s wickets.
Adding more to Lyon’s challenges, Australia has been the second toughest nation to bowl spin since his debut, as the spinners average 45.63 here, only better than 48.45 in New Zealand. Lyon’s average in Australia reads 31.14, a relatively high home average for a bowler among prolific wicket-takers. But his average at home is half that of other spinners in the matches he played in Australia, the best ratio for any spinner at home since his debut. While the average for spinners in the 63 Tests he played in Australia is 45.69, the average of other spinners (excluding Lyon) in those same Tests rises to 62.83
Irrespective of the conditions, between August 2013 and June 2023, Lyon featured in all the 100 Tests played by Australia. But his streak ended when he suffered a calf injury in his 100th Test during the Ashes earlier this year.
His injury forced Australia to play without a frontline spinner for the first time since 2012. Only five players have played 100 consecutive Tests for their teams before Lyon. Among specialist bowlers, no one else had a streak near to Lyon – the second best is Kumble’s 60 successive appearances for India between 1992 and 2000.
Since his debut, Lyon has missed only seven Test matches played by Australia, including their recent three in the Ashes, due to an injury. Among the bowlers with 500 Test wickets, no one has missed fewer matches than Lyon enroute their milestone. The next lowest is Courtney Walsh, who missed only ten of West Indies’ 139 Tests between his debut and where he took his 500th scalp.
Lyon has excelled in the two most prominent bilateral competitions – The Ashes and the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, with 100-plus wickets each. A total of 116 of Lyon’s 121 Test wickets against India came in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, the highest for any bowler. No other Australian has even picked up half of his tally in this competition that started back in 1996, as Brett Lee is the next best with 53 scalps.
In the Ashes, Lyon remains one of the only two spinners to bag 100-plus wickets since the World War II. The offspinner has taken 110 wickets, while Warne’s 195 are the highest in the history of the Ashes.
Lyon’s success in the Ashes defines his greatness with the conditions seldom favouring spinners in Australia and England. There have been 33 Ashes Tests since Lyon’s first at Old Trafford in 2013, of which he played 30 matches and picked up 110 wickets. The remaining spinners across England and Australia collectively claimed 110 in 33 Tests.