Qantas Tour of South Africa

Proteas pleased to keep Lyon caged

Opener believes hosts, with one notable exception, have largely negated the threat of the Australia's greatest off-spinner

Sam Ferris in Cape Town

20 March 2018, 05:36 PM AEST

While Dean Elgar has admittedly been "crap" against Nathan Lyon, he says the Proteas have played the wily off-spinner well at the midway point of the four-Test series.  

Lyon was Test cricket's leading wicket-taker in 2017 and ate England's left-handers for breakfast in the Magellan Ashes on home soil this summer, and that trend of southpaw success has followed him across the Indian Ocean. 

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Of the six wickets he's taken against South Africa this series, four have been left-handers: Elgar and wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock twice each.

It's been a case of déjà vu for Lyon, who has found the leading edge of Elgar's bat and reeled in a superb return catch to dismiss the obdurate opener once in each Test, while he's bowled de Kock with a quicker, flatter ball to take the gloveman's wicket on two occasions. 

But overall Lyon is averaging a tick under 40 in the series, which gives Elgar and the Proteas confidence they've gone some way to taming the veteran spinner.

"I've handled it quite crap," Elgar said when asked how he's gone playing Lyon this series. 

"In the past I've handled him quite well, but I do know he's developed his game massively in the last two years and I also need to be mindful of that and trust my defence against him, which I know can create different scoring opportunities like it did in the first innings in Port Elizabeth (where he scored 57 from 197 balls). 

"But in general I think we've played him quite well. The left-handers are always going to have a tough time against him, with the extra rough that's created and the wickets seem to be a lot a dryer. 

"Our right-handed batsmen coming in to the mix is quite important for us."

Even Lyon has been surprised about how he has removed Elgar so far in the series.

"I don't know what he's trying to do hitting me through square leg twice, but it's another good challenge you always have with different cricketers around the world," said Lyon, who is just four wickets shy of 300 Test scalps. 

"I bowled five balls and got him out twice but I also I bowled 20 overs in the first innings and couldn't get him out once, so it's a challenging one but it's a good challenge, it's Test cricket."

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Eighteen of Lyon's 21 wickets in the Ashes just gone were left-handers, including allrounder Moeen Ali seven times. 

However, where England had four lefties in their top seven, the Proteas only have two – Elgar and de Kock – but Lyon says bowling to the best is difficult no matter which way they take guard.

"It's very similar, you're bowling to the best batters in the world so it's a great challenge whether left-hander or right-hander," Lyon said. 

"I've enjoyed it because it's different conditions to what we're used to at home, we know they play some really good cricket, they beat us at home last time, their unit's a strong side. 

"I've enjoyed the challenge. If I challenge myself against the best players in the world I'm doing my job and pretty happy with it. 

"So to come up against the likes of AB (de Villiers) and Faf (du Plessis) and these guys and Hashim (Amla) it's the challenge you want."

In a boost for Lyon, the two right-handers he has dismissed this series have been Amla for a three-ball duck in Durban and de Villiers in the fourth innings at St George's Park.

The 31-year-old explained he tries to get right-handers driving through the off-side to open up the gap between bat and pad, looking for either a bowled or lbw dismissal, and those plans don't change even to a player of de Villiers' calibre.

"We know AB is a very special player, but I think we just need to treat him as any other batter," he said.

"He's in good touch at the moment, but if we bowl good balls to him and challenge his defence for long enough then hopefully we can get a couple of results go our way."

Qantas tour of South Africa

South Africa squad: Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Dean Elgar, Heinrich Klaasen, Quinton de Kock, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Wiaan Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Duanne Olivier, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, AB de Villiers.

Australia squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine, Jhye Richardson, Chadd Sayers, Mitchell Starc.

Warm-up match: Australia beat South Africa A by five wickets. Report, highlights

First Test Australia won by 118 runs. Scorecard

Second Test South Africa won by six wickets. Scorecard

Third Test Newlands, Cape Town, March 22-26. Live coverage

Fourth Test Wanderers, Johannesburg, March 30-April 3. Live coverage