Vodafone Test Series v India
'He didn't look that flash': Paine changes tune after first look
Australia's Test captain reflects on his first recollections of his future Test teammate, which have vastly changed over the past decade
14 January 2021, 05:17 PM AEST
Upon viewing Nathan Lyon first bowling in top-level cricket a decade ago, Tim Paine couldn't wait to get down the other end of the pitch when the wiry off-spinner was operating.
Not for the challenge of keeping wickets to the then-unheralded rookie playing for South Australia, but rather with bat in hand to feast on what he saw as unthreatening fodder waiting to be dispatched the boundary and, potentially, beyond.
"I think the first time I saw him was in a Big Bash game, watching him on tele and I thought 'jeez this bloke looks pretty average … he's lobbing these off-spinners and getting a bit of drift'," Paine said today of his Australia teammate who tomorrow steps out for his 100th Test.
"He didn't look that flash, old 'Gaz'.
"But then not long after that, he was picked out of nowhere and we went on an (Australia) A tour to Zimbabwe where I was captain on the one-day part of it.
"He absolutely bowled the house down, and within two or three games we knew he had something pretty special.
"Literally, the next tour he was plucked to play in the Test series in Sri Lanka."
Paine's introduction to Lyon, when the man who would become his country's most successful finger spinner sported lush hair but had yet to cultivate a following, came in 2011 when their respective career trajectories could not have appeared more different.
As legend records, Lyon was a member of the Adelaide Oval ground staff when he was plucked from the ride-on mower (via Adelaide's Premier Cricket competition) to play for South Australia in the 2010-11 iteration of what would become the KFC Big Bash.
At that stage Paine had four Test caps to his name, but his tenure in the team had been prematurely ended by a serious finger fracture sustained while batting in an exhibition game late in 2010, and he spent that summer watching a lot of cricket from his couch with his right hand swathed in bandages.
And what he saw of the then 23-year-old tweaker from country New South Wales acted as a spur to his recovery because he couldn't wait to get back into Tasmania's team with bat in broken hand, and launch into Lyon.
"My very first (thought) was 'jeez I hope that bloke plays against Tassie because I'll line him up'," Paine said.
"And then about two months later, I was wicketkeeping to him in Zimbabwe and I had a completely different opinion of him."
Making his first appearance in a senior Australia representative team, alongside capped and future players the likes of David Warner, Mitchell Starc, Aaron Finch and Mitchell Marsh, Lyon was named player of the match after snaring 4-22 from seven overs against Zimbabwe.
Paine had hardly rushed the new boy into the attack that day, deploying him fourth-change bowler behind Starc, Tasmania's Luke Butterworth, future Test quick John Hastings, Marsh and left-arm spinner Steve O'Keefe.
But he soon saw Lyon's potency.
After five overs, Lyon boasted figures of 3-11 having accounted for opener Vusi Sibanda, keeper Regis Chakabva and hard-hitting batter Craig Ervine, all of whom represented Zimbabwe in Test cricket.
Lyon's fourth match of that triangular series (that also featured South Africa A) revealed his batting prowess, when he sealed victory for his team by clubbing the penultimate ball of the 50th over bowled by future Proteas player Rory Kleinveldt over mid-wicket for six.
When Lyon returned to Harare's Sports Club as a member of Australia's men's ODI team for another tri-series three years later, he regularly regaled the tale of that blow which he claimed cleared the grass mound beyond the boundary and was last seen heading towards President Robert Mugabe's fortress-like compound across the road.
"Second-last ball of the game, three runs to win – it went the journey," Lyon told cricket.com.au during the 2014 tour.
"Over the hill, it was probably about a 100-metre hit.
"Bobbie Mugabe thought he was under attack."
Lyon finished that 2011 tournament as leading wicket-taker and despite not being a part of the Australia squad for the first-class fixtures that followed – Michael Beer and Jason Krejza were the red-ball spinners – he was earmarked for bigger things by then selector Greg Chappell.
When Australia's touring party for the three-Test tour of Sri Lanka was announced the next month, Lyon was included as a bolter at Krezja's expense.
He made his Test debut at Galle and captured five wickets in his maiden innings including the scalp of Sri Lanka superstar Kumar Sangakkara with his first ball, and has played 99 of Australia's 103 Tests over almost 10 years since.
While Lyon was announcing his arrival in Sri Lanka, Paine was struck on the damaged finger while batting in the nets at Tasmania's pre-season training and the fitness and form travails he subsequently endured saw him almost walk away from the game until he earned a Test recall in 2017.
It also took three years from the time he first saw Lyon bowling in a BBL game before he had a chance to make good that mental promise and have a go at those looping off-spinners in the helter-skelter of the 20-over game.
By that stage, Lyon had relocated to his home state and was plying his trade for Sydney Sixers and Paine was opening the batting for Hobart Hurricanes.
Paine duly dispatched the first ball he faced from his future Test teammate to the extra cover boundary, and the fifth for another four before aiming a reverse sweep at a delivery Lyon had flighted tantalisingly as per his rival's earlier assessment.
Not only did Paine fail to make contact, he over-balanced in swinging at the ball as it floated past and was stumped as he tried to regain his footing and his ground.
Since then, the pair have combined in 27 Tests for Australia to complete 21 dismissals (15 catches and six stumpings) as Lyon eyes his 400th wicket – he currently has 396 – in his 100th appearance.
In three Tests of the Vodafone Series against India to date, Lyon has taken six wickets from 128 overs at an average of 57.66 and a breakthrough every 120 deliveries.
However, his strike rate in nine previous Tests at the Gabba (a wicket every 10 overs) is significantly better than at Melbourne and Sydney where the previous two Tests against India have been played.
As a consequence, Paine believes that – far removed from his views when he first saw 'old Gaz' in action 10 years ago – Lyon will play a vital role in the match that will decide which team takes home the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
"I thought in Adelaide (site of the first Test) he created heaps of chances that didn't go to hand," Paine said of his premier spinner today.
"I thought the same the other day (at the SCG), I thought he bowled beautifully and had I caught a couple it's a completely different story for him.
"Nathan Lyon's played a hundred Test matches, that's not easy to do and it means you’re absolutely top of the tree.
"To see him play 100 Tests tomorrow is an amazing achievement from a guy who was plucked off a roller at the Adelaide Oval.
"I'm not seeing any decline in him.
"At times, the Indians have played him very well but at (other) times we know he's created a lot of chances, some not quite going to hand and some we've dropped.
"We expect he'll have a huge role to play in this Test match."
Vodafone Test Series v India 2020-21
Australia Test squad: Tim Paine (c), Sean Abbott, Pat Cummins, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Moises Henriques, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Will Pucovski, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade, David Warner
India Test squad: Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Rohit Sharma (vice-captain), Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari, Shubman Gill, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Rishabh Pant (wk), Jasprit Bumrah, Navdeep Saini, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, T Natarajan
First Test: Australia won by eight wickets
Second Test: India won by eight wickets
Third Test: Match drawn
Fourth Test: January 15-19, Gabba, 11am AEDT