Nathan Lyon savours the reward for his toil but is ready for more

Nathan Lyon savours the reward for his toil but is ready for more

News Analysis

The landmark took a while to arrive but then the wickets came in a rush

“The next wicket is always the hardest one to get. That’s my mindset and that’s not going to change.”

Nathan Lyon outlined his philosophy just hours after claiming his 400th Test wicket and not long after Australia completed a nine-wicket victory over England to take a 1-0 lead in the Ashes.

But no matter what Lyon believes, some wickets are easier to get than others, and some should be savoured more than others. Lyon had been stuck on 399 Test wickets for 326 days and had to bowl 208 deliveries before finally reaching the milestone.

England’s Dawid Malan fell bat-pad early on the fourth morning to help Lyon become the 17th Test bowler to reach 400 scalps and the third Australian behind Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.

It had been a long wait and a huge build-up over those 326 days. He couldn’t even escape it in the changerooms as his team-mates ribbed him relentlessly. He claims his 404th is now the hardest to get, but 400 was no picnic.

“It was a big relief,” Lyon said. “It hasn’t really hit me yet, to be honest. No doubt I’ll get my phone out and call my family and friends and that will probably hit a little bit closer to home, I guess. But it’s something that I’m very proud of. There’s no doubt about that. It’s been some hard toil to get it but it’s very, very rewarding.”

With the weight off his shoulders, Lyon returned to his best to help Australia clean up England. His 401st wicket took just 11 more deliveries to get, bamboozling Ollie Pope with sharp bounce and turn as he tried to cut a ball that pitched wide of off. It only took 37 more to reach 403 as Ollie Robinson gifted Lyon his wicket with an attempted reverse sweep while Mark Wood was bowled by a full ball that drifted and dropped under the bat.

I think the biggest thing for me and my skill set is being able to get the ball to drift and drop and use my bounce. It’s all well and good to be a massive turner but if you can only turn the ball half a bat that brings in the edges

Nathan Lyon

In 38 deliveries Lyon had gone from carrying the weight of the world to producing another match-winning four-wicket haul.

There had been whispers around Lyon in recent times. It hasn’t been as vociferous as the one around Mitchell Starc, but nine Test wickets in nine innings over a near two-year span, despite Australia barely playing in that time, caused eyebrows to inevitably be raised.

Australia’s evisceration of England’s Jack Leach at the Gabba should give an indication of how difficult it is to bowl not only spin but conventional finger spin in Australia.

“I think he’s just about our most important bowler,” Pat Cummins said. “[He’s] a wicket-taking option but also, the amount of overs he bowls. Yesterday he bowled without luck but went at two-and-a-half an over for 20-odd overs on a hot day which is a huge asset for us.”

Since 2010, only three spinners have taken more than 20 Test wickets in Australia and all three are right arm offspinners. Lyon has 204 wickets at 32.87, striking at 66.9, with an economy rate of 2.94 and eight five-wicket hauls, alongside two 10-wicket hauls. R Ashwin has 39 wickets at 42.15, striking at 86.2 without a five-for, while Graeme Swann took 22 wickets at 52.59, striking at 98.5 with just one five-wicket haul.

There is no tougher challenge than bowling finger spin well on Australian pitches, and Lyon is nicknamed the goat for that reason.

“That’s what I grew up on,” Lyon said. “I think the biggest thing for me and my skill set is being able to get the ball to drift and drop and use my bounce. It’s all well and good to be a massive turner but if you can only turn the ball half a bat that brings in the edges. That’s my strength and that’s what I believe in and that’s what I’ll keep doing until I’m done.”

While Lyon returned to his best taking care of Malan and Pope and troubling Ben Stokes on day four, one challenge remains for him over the next four Tests. Joe Root, his former team-mate at Prospect in Adelaide grade cricket, played him with aplomb.

“There are a couple of challenges there that’s for sure,” Lyon said. “He’s a very good player off the front and back foot and he sweeps. So it does provide a really decent challenge for spinners to get him caught on the crease and challenge his defence for a long period of time.

“But he’s the best batter in the world at the moment and he showed his class out there and so it’s going to be a big summer against Joe. I’ve got a huge amount of respect for him and the way he’s gone about it. I’m going to have to make sure that I keep looking at footage keep planning and try and come up with a few different things for him.”

Nathan Lyon’s 400th wicket has come and gone. The next one is the hardest to get.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo