Former Test spinner Kerry O’Keeffe believes Nathan Lyon will play a “vital” role for Australia this summer, but says the pressure will fall on his England counterpart Moeen Ali.
Lyon, who sits seventh on Australia’s all-time list of Test wicket-takers with 269, shapes as a dangerous complement for the country’s fast bowling brigade and will be a key component of England’s planning for the Magellan Ashes Series.
“He has a few victories over a few of these fellows, and I watched them during the winter playing spin, and I think he’s a big factor,” O’Keeffe said at Triple M’s Ashes launch in Sydney on Monday.
“For me, the guy with more pressure on is the other spinner, Moeen Ali, ’cause he has to support the quicker bowlers and I think (Australia) will take him on from the very first ball, because you can take him down the ground.
“…when he hasn’t bowled well, it’s because people have hit him over the top. He’s a flat spinner, if it’s not turning, people can drop-kick him.”
Ali has typically not fared as well against Australia as other teams, with a higher average (45.50 compared to career average of 37.32) and higher economy rate (4.41 compared to 3.66) in five matches to date against his Ashes opponents.
Indeed, his record away from home doesn’t make for happy reading, with an average of 33.47 on English decks blowing out to 44.17 overseas, and his strike rate sliding down from 52 to 77.1.
O’Keeffe suggested Ali could become a target for Australia’s batters as they look to heap the pressure back on England skipper Joe Root and his men.
“I think the moment he comes on – because he’ll be trying to relieve (James) Anderson, (Stuart) Broad and Jake Ball with some tight spells,” O’Keeffe said.
“If they take him on and get on top of him, they throw the pressure on Root to bring back on one of their quicker men, and suddenly they’re draining the quicker men because Moeen Ali has been brought down.
“I’m interested in Australian tactics against Moeen Ali. I think they’ll be ultra-aggressive and risk getting out to put pressure back on Root.”
Uncapped England leg-spinner Mason Crane could come into the mix for the series, but O’Keeffe believes it would only be on the SCG deck if the series is still in balance for the fifth Test, pointing to an “imprecision” with his bowling that could be a liability on more batting-friendly surfaces.
But Australia could have a handy support act for Lyon if skipper Steve Smith is willing to take the ball in hand during the five-Test series, while unheralded leg-spinner Dan Fallins caught more than a few eyes with an impressive five-wicket haul in his first-class debut for CA XI against England in last week’s tour match.
“I think a few of these English batsmen have got a few problems with wrist spin,” O’Keeffe said.
“They’ll be factoring all their work into Nathan Lyon, but I think Smithy should bowl more this summer. I know he’s a reluctant bowler, but Joe Root, Jonathan Bairstow – leg-spinners get them out.
“That’s why, come Sydney, I’m very interested in our team - I don’t know if you saw the revs that Daniel Fallins put on the ball for CA.
“This was a fantastic debut. We’re used to these sliding leg-spinners in this country, suddenly we have one with a MacGill-like viper
“If it’s down to the wire in Sydney and there’s two spinners required, I’d gamble on a leg-spinner.”
While Lyon has proved Mr Indestructible for Australia, having never missed a Test match through injury, O’Keeffe said Mitch Swepson looms as a back-up if the unthinkable happens and Lyon were to miss a match through injury.
“I’d love to see a wrist spinner against this English side because I’ve looked at the way they’ve played wrist spin and I’m not convinced, but our main man is a finger spinner, and the back-up is untried,” O’Keeffe said.
“If Lyon was to get injured or taken down, we’d have problems … but he’s such a great support to those quicks and he fits like a glove in that side.”
2017-18 International Fixtures:
Magellan Ashes Series
First Test Gabba, November 23-27. Buy tickets
Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Buy tickets
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Buy tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Buy tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Buy tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Buy tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Buy tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Buy tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Buy tickets
Fifth ODI Perth TBC, January 28. Join the ACF
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Buy tickets
Gillette T20 INTL Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Buy tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Buy tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Buy tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 13
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21