Domain Test Series v New Zealand
Lyon-trainer's fresh focus for Pakistan challenge
Australia's greatest ever off-spinner discusses his punishing fitness program and responds to Shane Warne's bold prediction
2 November 2019, 03:10 PM AEST
While a bulk of Australia's men's Ashes heroes have returned to the international spotlight in T20 uniforms, Nathan Lyon has been quietly slogging his way up and down the steep streets of suburban Sydney.
Lyon, whose 20 wickets 33.4 were a crucial factor in his team's retention of the urn, made a low-key return to cricket with an appearance in the Marsh Sheffield Shield and Marsh One-Day Cup against Tasmania last month.
But away from competition, the 31-year-old has been putting himself through a punishing fitness program and adding a couple of subtle tricks to his spin-bowling repertoire ahead of the upcoming Domain Test Series against Pakistan and New Zealand.
Under the expert eye of former New South Wales rugby representative turned peak performance trainer Tom Carter, Lyon has pounded pavements across Sydney's hilly inner-west since returning from the UK.
Having bowled more overs (242) than any other bowler - teammate or rival - during the Ashes campaign, Lyon was due some respite ahead of the Australia summer.
Especially because, since making his debut in Sri Lanka eight years ago, Lyon has sent down more deliveries in Test cricket than any other bowler.
And although he's eased back into red-ball mode in his sole Sheffield Shield appearance (that was dominated by Test teammate Mitchell Starc who claimed 10 wickets), he's been working as hard in the nets as he's been thudding the footpaths.
Prior to the Shield match against South Australia that began at Adelaide Oval on Friday, Lyon underwent a lengthy training session with Cricket Australia spin coach Craig Howard to ensure his technical acumen matches his physical fitness.
"There's a lot of work that goes into it that a lot of people don't realise," Lyon told cricket.com.au about his craft.
"It’s not just walking in seven steps, bowling off-breaks and getting out of there.
"Today's cricket has definitely changed and you’re a professional athlete so you've got to take care of yourself and do all the work.
"I found myself going a little bit squarer in England, which you can afford to do on those types of wickets.
“But I've been working hard in the nets here, about coming back and making sure I'm doing everything I can to go up the back of the ball again, and go back to my strengths.
"It's coming out really well and I'm enjoying being back playing for New South Wales, although I feel pretty old in this group to be honest."
Old dogs can take up new tricks however, and Lyon has been experimenting with some variations to his stock off-break and trusted over-spinner in a bid to keep rival batters guessing.
While not as ostentatious as 'Jeff' (as Lyon dubbed his back-spinning delivery a few years ago) and its close cousin that he dryly named 'square Jeff', Lyon is confident in his expanded armoury.
He also sees them as vital additions against Pakistan in the first two Tests of the summer, given their batters have grown up facing the full array of 'doosras' and 'karrom' balls as perfected by a generation of subcontinental spinners.
"Pakistan has probably been one side that's played me well, I find them extremely good players of spin." Lyon said this week.
"They are very attacking players, they sweep a lot, they use their feet a lot, so it's going to be a great challenge out here in Australia.
"I'm always experimenting … I'm working on a couple of different things – sliders out of the front of the hand, not so much from an up-the-back-of-the-hand off-break.
"So I do have a few different variations, not just the one off-break.
"But I'm a believer that if my stock ball is on top of its game, it will be good enough to get anyone out.
"I'm still learning about off-breaks.
"I'm trying to get better all the time, and just looking to bowl the perfect off-break.
"I'm always trying to study it, and how I can get better, and how I can be more effective in conditions all around the world.
"However, I don’t believe that I need all these 'karrom' balls to be perfect."
Lyon's quest for bowling perfection is built upon some fairly straightforward performance indicators.
At the start of a summer, he takes reassurance from the rhythm he feels in his approach, the energy he's generating through his action at the crease, and the bounce he's extracting as shown by the contact points on opponents' bats.
What doesn't drive him are personal statistics, even though he now occupies rarefied territory as the third-highest Test wicket-taker (with 363 scalps) to wear the Baggy Green Cap behind Glenn McGrath (563) and Shane Warne (708).
And the third-most successful off-spinner the Test game has known, after Sri Lanka's Muthiah Muralidaran (800) and India's Harbhajan Singh (417).
When Lyon overtook former fast bowling great Dennis Lillee (355) to claim third place within Australia's Test bowlers' pantheon during the Ashes campaign, Warne told cricket.com.au the off-spinner "is a chance" to overtake his distant national benchmark.
The fact that Lyon doesn't even bother laughing at that suggestion, but instead simply shakes his head provides clear evidence of how far-fetched he finds that scenario.
"I'm not even considering that – it's a remarkable statement coming from Mr Shane Warne," Lyon notes with trademark deadpan.
"Obviously his record speaks for itself, and I'm still learning.
"I'm a big believer that I'll never conquer this game of cricket but once I stop trying to learn and get better, that's when I'll give up.
"At this stage, I'm still enjoying it, still wanting to learn and improve, and I'm not worried about where I get to."
Other than the top of the next steep hill.
Domain Test Series v Pakistan
Australia squad: TBC
Pakistan squad: Azhar Ali (c), Abid Ali, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Imam-ul-Haq, Imran Khan Snr, Iftikhar Ahmed, Kashif Bhatti, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Musa Khan, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Yasir Shah.
Warm-up match: v Cricket Australia XI, November 11-13, Perth Stadium (d/n)
Warm-up match: v Cricket Australia XI, November 15-16, WACA Ground
First Test: November 21-25, Gabba (Seven, Fox & Kayo)