Australia spinner Nathan Lyon heads into another Ashes campaign on the cusp of joining an elite group of players with 500 Test wickets – and warning he can still get better.
The veteran of 120 Tests will do battle once more with England this week and is primed to torment a country that has accounted for 101 of his 487 scalps.
The 35-year-old Lyon declared last month he believed “100%” that a whitewash of their hosts and arch-rivals was doable.
Affectionately known as “Garry” after former Aussie rules player Garry Lyon, he is one of the most prolific off-spinners to grace Test cricket.
He took four wickets in India’s second innings to help Australia win the World Test Championship final at The Oval on Sunday and is poised to join spin greats Shane Warne, Anil Kumble and Muttiah Muralitharan in the exclusive 500-club.
Two of his England rivals, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, are also among the seven players to have taken 500 or more Test wickets.
Lyon’s fellow Australian Glenn McGrath and Courtney Walsh of the West Indies are the other two.
A classical spinner who flights the ball, the durable right-armer could feasibly catch Walsh (519) during the five-Test Ashes series starting at Edgbaston on Friday.
While his seemingly anointed off-spinning successor Todd Murphy was also included in Australia’s squad, Lyon is not ready to slow down or give selectors any reason to consider his 22-year-old teammate as an alternative.
“There’s no end in sight for me,” Lyon, whose longevity is partly due to having not played international white-ball cricket since 2019, told reporters ahead of his departure from Australia.
“I still feel like I can get better. I feel like I’m still learning about the art of off-break bowling. I’m trying to get a lot more consistent and trying to get my stock ball even better with a few variations as well.”
He will face an added challenge in England with short boundaries designed to aid the home side’s aggressive batsmen set to be deployed, which risks him being routinely pummelled to the ropes.
But the opportunistic Lyon, who made his Test debut in 2011, only sees this as another chance to boost his wicket haul.
“I’ve been hit for six … it must be getting close to 300 times now for me,” he said. “I’m not worried by it at all, I’m not scared by it. It provides a chance [of wickets] in my eyes.”
In Murphy, Australia appear to have a long-term heir from their never-ending conveyor belt of top-class spin bowlers.
This time last year he was a virtual unknown, handed a surprise Test call-up after just seven first-class matches for Victoria.
He grabbed the chance with both hands in a stunning debut against India at Nagpur in February where he bagged a seven-wicket haul in their first innings while beautifully bowling in tandem with Lyon.
Able to beat the bat on both edges, Australia coach Andrew McDonald said earlier this year: “I think he’s a clear No 2.
“I think there’s been discussion over a period of time what would happen if we didn’t have Nathan Lyon. That’s been one of the real positives that we’ve got an obvious No 2 that can play in all conditions.”
The bespectacled Murphy, who won a Cricket Australia contract this year, knows he is still learning the ropes, with spinning in often cold and seam-friendly English conditions a different ball game to the sub-continent.
When he gets the chance to add to his four caps remains to be seen, but it appears unlikely to be in England, where the need for two spinners is rare.
Chief selector George Bailey has urged him to bide his time, saying: “We think he has a really bright future.”
© Agence France-Presse