On verge of 500, Lyon gives glimpse of what Aussies missed

Wicketless until the 37th over, Australia were given yet another reminder of Nathan Lyon’s enduring class on day two in Perth

If all goes to plan for Nathan Lyon, there will be far more interest in the next three wickets he takes than this one.

Now with 497 Test victims to his name, the off-spinner is on the verge of joining even more exalted company than he already has.

But if Australia needed evidence that Lyon had lost none of the understated bowling smarts and skill they desperately missed during the back-end of the Ashes, his canny removal of the most promising young player Pakistan have brought on this tour gave it to them.

With his side unable to break through during the early stages of their first bowling innings of the NRMA Insurance Test summer, Lyon recognised that Abdullah Shafique, who former Test player Simon Katich suggested has the potential to be a "better player than Babar Azam", had gradually gotten his measure.

It was not that Lyon had bowled poorly in his first Test back from a serious calf injury.

The 36-year-old had, in fact, immediately settled into a familiar holding role. He was close to dismissing Shafique on his second ball of the Test, and then gave his opponent little scope to follow through on their coach's pre-match assertion that they would attempt to take the Aussies’ lead spinner down.

Australia v Pakistan | First Test | Day 2

"We know that Nathan Lyon is a great bowler," the tourists' recently appointed mentor Mohammad Hafeez said earlier this week. "But as a team we are also confident we will take him on straightaway."

In the lead-in to this match, Pat Cummins described Lyon as "the main guy in our bowling attack", while Andrew McDonald said he was the bowler who "makes that attack work". It bears mentioning the gravity of those compliments given the three other main members of that attack may be the best pace threesome Australia have had.

His setup of Shafique justified the praise.

After the prodigious 24-year-old followed a cut shot for four (his fourth boundary off Lyon, out of six in total for his innings) with a single through the leg-side off the final ball off his sixth over, Lyon knew he needed to make a change.

To that point, he had bowled all 26 of his deliveries to the right-hander from over the wicket, with just a slip and a bat-pad in place as catchers. Shafique had played and missed at a fifth of the deliveries he had faced overall, but the only one he had missed off Lyon was a loosener down the leg-side.

Nathan Lyon celebrates his breakthrough wicket of Abdullah Shafique // Getty

Lyon's switch at the start of his next over to go around the wicket was only part of the plan. Despite Pakistan having wrestled some degree of control over him and having advanced their score to 0-70, Lyon set a more aggressive field, rather than a more a defensive one. Crucially, he summoned David Warner into a leg-slip.

Lyon had suddenly given Shafique something new to think about – and he was nearly out doing exactly that.

The opener’s mind seemingly elsewhere, Shafique momentarily lifted his back foot after working Lyon's first ball from around the wicket to short-leg. Marnus Labuschagne back-handed it to keeper Alex Carey, who failed to remove the bails in a bizarre moment.

When a streaky flick later that over went a metre or two past Warner, the Aussies knew they were onto something.

On the second delivery of the ensuing over, Shafique advanced at Lyon but failed to get to the pitch and was left reaching. Stranded, he could only guide the ball straight into the waiting hands of Warner.

A subtle tweak had created three chances in the space of eight balls. This was Lyon back at his best.

He may take his 500th wicket in the coming days and this moment will be forgotten. There was, of course, hardly anything all that spectacular about the delivery that actually dismissed Shafique.

But the Australians appreciate just how rare his skill is.  

"It's great to have him back," said Mitch Marsh, whose 107-ball 90 had underpinned the hosts' first innings of 487. "He's one of our best players to have ever played Test match cricket for Australia.

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"Unfortunately, I have to listen to his dribble, because I'm at gully and he's a point. But, outside the dribble, he's always thinking about the game.

"He said to me in the over he came (back on to bowl), he's going to come around the wicket and put a leg slip in.

"I guess that's why he's been so successful. For someone who's played 110 Test matches, he's always asking, he's always thinking – and it came off for him today.

"He allows us great control, yet he's always a wicket-taking option for us. We're extremely lucky to have him back."

Pakistan wanted a piece of Lyon and Shafique's dismissal did little to change that.

After replacing Shafique at the crease, their captain Shan Masood was nearly out immediately trying to cut his first ball, before wild hoicks from both Masood and Imam-ul-Haq in that same over came close to being caught.

As their bowling coach Umar Gul put it after play, Australia’s bowlers "know how to play Test cricket and how to bowl".

"The conditions were tough and we have to credit the Australian bowlers, they bowled with great consistency and discipline," Gul continued. "If they’d had a bit more luck we might have lost one or two more wickets."

NRMA Insurance Test series v Pakistan

First Test: December 14-18, Perth Stadium (1.20pm AEDT)

Second Test: December 26-30, MCG (10.30am AEDT)

Third Test: January 3-7, SCG (10.30am AEDT)

Australia squad: (first Test only) Pat Cummins (c), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Lance Morris, Steve Smith, Mitch Starc, David Warner

Pakistan squad: Shan Masood (c), Aamir Jamal, Abdullah Shafique, Abrar Ahmed, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Khurram Shahzad, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Noman Ali, Saim Ayub, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Saud Shakeel and Shaheen Shah Afridi