Saturday 15 December 2018

'Superman' catch boosts Lyon's cult-hero status

Lyon will almost certainly end 2017 as Test cricket’s leading wicket-taker this year. Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Lyon will almost certainly end 2017 as Test cricket’s leading wicket-taker this year. Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Nick Hoult

Off-spinners are famously derided in Australia, even when they are Australian, but Nathan Lyon is the undoubted star of this Ashes series.

That cult-hero status edged towards superhero level with his return catch off Moeen Ali - a full Superman leap before wrapping his fingers around the pink ball to confirm his dominance over his off-spinning counterpart.

Lyon will almost certainly end 2017 as Test cricket's leading wicket-taker this year, the first time an Australian will have done so for eight years.

He has one more innings here and two further Tests before the end of the year and England are no closer to working out a method against him. Seeing him off is no good, as the quicks will strike at the other end, while attacking him has not worked either. James Anderson was his 55th wicket of 2017, moving him past Kagiso Rabada who has only one Test - a four-dayer against Zimbabwe - to try to regain top place.

Lyon has played six Tests in the sub-continent, so a bumper year is not a surprise, but he has continued his form at home.

After England's first innings, he was the joint leading wicket-taker in this series with Mitchell Starc (nine at 22) and the fact he has bowled more overs at the most economical rate of any bowler is proof of the job he has done for Steve Smith, who has been able to rest his quicks, knowing his spinner is giving nothing away, while also taking wickets. Moeen, meanwhile, has two wickets at 88.

Now aged 30, younger than Moeen, and playing his 71st Test, Lyon is at his peak. He is thinking one step ahead of the England batsmen, using his experience to sense their next move.

He is accurate, rarely bowling a bad ball, and he is turning it hard. There is also more drift in to the batsmen than previously, and dip, which is what deceived Moeen.

He has been supercharged in the field, with the pearler off Moeen following on from his vital run-out of James Vince in Brisbane.

Throw in his hook for six off England's bad guy Stuart Broad, and you can see why the Australian crowds love him.

This is his finest Ashes performance. Forget the five for 50 at the MCG four years ago - England were beaten by then.

This is a floodlit Test with a grassy pitch, and overhead conditions suited to pace. But Lyon bowled more overs than the seamers and took over from Starc in polishing off the tail.

Kevin Pietersen wanted England to attack Lyon. Alastair Cook tried, cutting him for four in his third over when he dropped short, but Lyon gave him nothing else and after 14 consecutive dot balls nicked him off to slip.

England gave themselves a glimmer of hope after tearing into the Australia top order - with James Anderson and Chris Woakes taking two wickets each to reduce the home side to 53-4. That, though, is still a lead of 268 after the tourists were bowled out for 227. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)

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