Thursday 22 August 2019

'Bodyline' hype falls flat as Lyon steals the show

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Australia's Nathan Lyon. Photo: Getty Images
Australia's Nathan Lyon. Photo: Getty Images

Paul Hayward in Brisbane

The odd one out in Australia's bowling quartet is a skinny, bald, mischievous spinner who lacks the youthful glamour of the three 'quicks', but has already imposed his character on the series.

As England fought their way to 196 for four at the end of the first day, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood were hoping for a more productive second day on a harder, faster pitch.

These three supposed horsemen of the apocalypse were hardly innocuous in the first three sessions of this marathon. But they were only just getting started on an unfavourable surface, whereas Nathan Lyon made his big move early, dismissing James Vince with an athletic, one-handed pick-up and throw-down, and raising his fist to England's fans, whose comedy unit will hunt him everywhere he goes.

Not highly regarded by Joe Root, apparently (this is another running joke), Lyon has started this series pugnaciously, bowling well, getting rid of Vince, and showing no urge to dodge the retribution he invited for his scattergun taunts about England being petrified four years ago.

Lyon - nickname 'Garry' - is already a cult figure in this series, and a bete noire to Matt Prior, who took offence at his claim that he was so "scared" by Mitchell Johnson's bowling in 2013-'14 that he wanted to go home.

Even the Australia team were surprised by Lyon's assault on the English character.

"He's not normally like that," said Root, as if Lyon had a funny turn in church.

After the Vince run-out, Cummins went over to praise the new Aussie Terminator.

"He's one of those guys who just loves getting in the contest and backing up his team-mates. The way he's been bowling the last two months - in two sub-continent tours, he was our best bowler.

"You see a real confidence growing in him and he's one of the world's best bowlers, if not the best. And he's a real team-mate."

England's players would be less effusive, and Lyon will feel decidedly unloved by them when he goes out to bat. But his new cheeky streak is not detracting from his game.

The anti-glamour he brings to the side could be seen as a vital element in an age when Australian cricket lacks the old yard-dog flavour, and quick bowlers resemble young movie stars.

Hoping for a wicket that was "a little bit quicker", Cummins has taken his first Test wickets on home soil, and was plainly glad to put the hype of day one behind him.

The way Australia told it, all leave had been cancelled for the bone surgeons of Brisbane. English batsmen would stumble out of the Gabba with thousand-yard stares.

But while there was rain on the opening day, the reign of terror was postponed.

The scaremongers had promised mayhem. Mitchell Johnson times three and "Poms in fear and present danger", in the words of the local 'Courier Mail', which led the front page with: BODYLINE.

The cartoonish nature of the threats failed to disturb England's pre-Test equanimity, and neglected to take account of the initial slowness of the Gabba pitch.

There was another big gap in the argument. Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood were all virgins in home Ashes Tests.

To expect them to immediately match the destructiveness of Johnson four years ago (much less, Lillee and Thompson) was to mistake them for seasoned Ashes brutes.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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