It has long been the lament of fans, pundits and journalists alike that in the “post Warne” age we (Australian cricket) have not had a consistently selectable or, indeed, match winning spin bowler. This problem has become so “acute” in the prelude to the coming battle for the Ashes against England that the parliament of Australia has seen fit to change the laws of immigration in this country to allow for the fast tracked citizenship of a 31 year old leg spinner from Merguz in Pakistan who has played only 13 first class games just so he may be available.
Before the “Era of Ahmed” a compendium of spin bowlers used by Australia since 5 January 2007 (when the “Era of Warne” ended) reads like this (this list necessarily removes batsmen who bowl a bit):
SCG MacGill (4 matches)
GB Hogg (3 matches)
B Casson (1 match)
CL White (4 matches)
JJ Krejza (2 matches)
NM Hauritz (16 matches)
MA Beer (2 matches)
BE McGain (1 matches)
XJ Doherty (4 matches)
NM Lyon (22 matches)
GJ Maxwell (2 matches)
Australia has played 67 test matches in that span and have won 33, lost 21 and drawn 13 of same. The present incumbent, Nathan Lyon, comes into the Ashes with a record that shows that he has taken 76 wickets in his 22 test matches at an average of 33.18 runs per wicket and with an economy rate of 3.12 runs per over.
Am I alone in considering those numbers to actually be good numbers and, indeed, unworthy of the pressure being placed on Lyon’s place in the team by seemingly all and sundry including Cricket Australia? Let’s consider for a moment the records of the other spinners presently playing test match cricket and see how the record of Lyon compares (the qualification make for this exercise is 20 wickets taken):
Player Games Wickets Average Economy
Swann 52 261 28.69 2.91
Singh 44 175 35.79 2.86
Herath 35 165 28.48 2.71
Ajmal 26 133 27.6 2.66
Ohja 22 102 31.78 2.68
Ashwin 16 92 28.53 2.89
Patel 18 49 49.02 3.22
Vettori 39 131 34.66 2.45
Panesar 35 122 33.8 2.71
Mendis 17 64 34.2 3.08
Looking at this numbers now and comparing those of Nathan Lyon to them is all of the angst about his place in the Australian team and, indeed, the pressure being exerted by Ahmed’s selection really warranted? His performances and statistics are all the more admirable give that he plays the bulk of his matches in Australian on less than friendly pitches, he rarely has the support of a second spinner and he has been, it must be conceded, poorly captained by captains who are themselves seemingly remembering the days of Warne.
Despite those impediments he is still tracking to have similar numbers at similar times as players of the stature of Singh, Vettori, Herath or Panesar. I am more than a bit certain that Cricket Australia and cricket supporters of the Australian team would happily accept any of those players in the current lineup. So, at the risk of becoming repetitious but still restating the question, what is the problem with relying on N Lyon?
The answer to this question gets on back to an examination of the question posed in the title to this post:
Why is finding a good spinner for the Australian team so hard?
It must be clear from what has gone above that that question is unfair stated or, in fact, redundant because Australia already has a good spinner in Nathan Lyon. The problem is that the Australian public, pundits and, possibly, players are NOT looking for a good spinner. Rather they are looking for an answer to this question:
Why is it so hard to find the next Shane Warne?
That is a question that can simply must be answered this way: we will never find a spinner like Shane Warne again. Therein lies the rub: we, the Australian cricket public, pundits and players, are searching for something we can not and will not ever have again. Until we as a cricketing nation can get our heads around that immutable truth we are going to continue to “burn” our clearly good spinners with the pressure that comes with expectation. Surely now it is time to get behind Nathan Lyon and back him to get the job done because, simply put, we already have a good spinner in him.