Nice, Garry! Lyon is on track to be one of the all-time greats.

The events of the South Africa tour have overshadowed several very impressive performances and some significant milestones, with both Morne Morkel and Nathan Lyon reaching the 300-wicket mark.


Such a feat places both bowlers amongst the all-time greats, but whilst Morkel has bowed out after 11 excellent years of test cricket, Lyon looks set to continue as Australia’s Number 1 spinner for years to come. I’ve taken a look at some of the pertinent stats to try to ascertain just how far he could go, and whether ‘the GOAT’ really could become the greatest of all time.

Currently, Nathan Lyon has 306 test scalps from 78 tests, at an average of 32.21 at a strike rate of 62.7. He is 30 years old. This is already the 33rd highest total in test history, 7th on the Australian all-time list, and he has the 5th highest wicket tally of any spinner up to the age of 30 (full list here). He is already the top Aussie off-spinner in history by an enormous margin and he potentially has years left to continue to add to his total.

Spinners up to 30

At present, the spinning stocks in Shield Cricket are looking pretty thin, with Lyon seemingly having seen off the challenges of Steve O’Keefe and Fawad Ahmad. Plenty of column inches have been written about the potential of Lloyd Pope, but at 18 he’s yet to play his first Shield game for South Australia and even Shane Warne didn’t earn his first Baggy Green until the age of 22. Spinners tend to develop and mature a little later than quicks, and due to the lower forces applied can also continue later into their 30s.

Looking at the other greatest spinners in the game, it’s impossible not to conclude that Lyon is in a position to end his career far higher up the all-time lists in the pantheon of the greatest spinners to have played the game.

Taking the top 8 spinners in cricket history (by number of test victims), 5 are already retired and 3 (including Lyon) are still playing. Looking at that top-8, the average age of retirement is above 35. I’ve included Herath (currently still playing aged 40!) to find that figure, as to exclude him skews the figures somewhat. Given another 5 years of test cricket without being dropped or injured, Lyon is likely to play around 60 more tests. At present he averages 3.9 wickets per test, so a further 60 tests would see him finish his career on 541 test wickets. That would currently place Lyon 5th on the all-time wicket-takers list, 3rd Australian behind Warne and McGrath.

Most wickets Australia

You can see the full list of Test cricket’s top wicket-takers here.

However, I believe that we can expect to see greater than average longevity from Lyon, given that he entered professional cricket later than usual, making his first-class debut the same year as his test debut, aged 23. Added to that, he plays much of his cricket on the pace-friendly surfaces of Australia, meaning he tends to bowl fewer overs per innings than spinners based on the sub-continent and as such, he hasn’t bowled as many overs as many others his age. Playing past the age of 37 (as Murali, Warne, Kumble and Herath all have) could see Lyon finish close to Kumble’s 619 victims.

Despite the increasing risk of injuries for spinners in their 30’s, the added maturity and experience seem to balance the effects of ageing to allow the top spinners to take roughly the same number of wickets after turning 30 as they managed before 30. Although Vettori and Harbhajan dried up after the age of 30, Warne and Kumble actually took the majority of their test wickets after passing 30. Herath has taken 92% of his wickets post-30 and that figure can only increase! Looking at the top 8 (with Lyon and Ashwin removed due to their ages), bowlers took 48% of their career total after the age of 30. If Lyon were to follow this pattern, he would take another 242 wickets and finish his career on 548, very close to catching Glenn McGrath (563 wickets).

% wickets after 30

Of course, at present there are other bowlers still playing who could possibly alter the numbers towards the top of the tree. James Anderson could yet climb above McGrath if he can play another full season in England where he is likely to take a sack of wickets in six tests in home conditions against Pakistan and India. However, it’s hard to see Anderson continuing far beyond this English summer.

At the age of 40, Herath is probably taking wickets with more consistency than at any time in his career. His current total of 415 places him 12th and with several other greats firmly in his sights, Herath looks likely to end his career inside the top-10, but surely at some point someone will discover the shrivelled painting hidden in his attic that is the secret of his eternal youthfulness.

Ravi Ashwin is Lyon’s only real contemporary in the top 8 of all time. He has a very similar number of wickets (311 to Lyon’s 306) at a similar age (at 31, Ashwin is just 14 months his senior). Ashwin has the better average, the better strike rate and therefore (on paper at least) is likely to finish his career on an even higher number of test wickets than Lyon. Ashwin is currently in a position to challenge the top 3 bowlers of all-time, with time on his side and plenty of home tests to be played on surfaces that will help rather than hinder. The one factor that could limit Ashwin is the fierce competition for places in the Indian team. If he were to pick up an injury or his form should falter, it is more likely India would be able to replace him than Australia could currently replace Lyon. As a result, although Ashwin’s current trajectory is stratospheric, it may be harder for him to play another 50 or 60 tests than it is for Lyon.

cricket ball

Given Lyon’s rise to become one of the most experienced and reliable performers in the Australia squad, it seems he may be in a position to help shape the way Australia plays in future and carve his own place in the annals of the sport as he does so.

What do you think? How many wickets will Lyon have when his career eventually ends? Is he up there with the greats?

The drowning of Mason Crane

Mason Crane has dreamed of this moment all his life. The moment when he stops being a spectator and takes on the role of participant in the gladiatorial world of test match cricket. As he stands at his mark and prepares to bowl his first delivery, an expectant hush descends over the S.C.G.

Crane is the tenth genuine spin bowler to play test cricket for England in the 21st century. Of those, three could be deemed a success (Swann, Panesar and Moeen Ali). Of the other seven, none of them played more than Adil Rashid’s 10 tests, and none even get close to Rashid’s 38 wickets. In fact, Tredwell, Dawson, Patel, Ansari, Batty, Borthwick and Crane have a total of 39 between them.

England aren’t alone in this with Australia ‘experimenting’ with the likes of O’Keefe, Krejza, Agar, Maxwell, Doherty, Holland, White, Beer, Casson, Hogg and McGain in trying to fill the post-Warne vacuum. It’s taken four years for Ashton Agar to even return to the Australia squad after his test debut in an away Ashes series at almost the exact same age as Crane is now.

So spin bowling is a difficult craft and establishing yourself as a spinner in test cricket takes resilience from the players and wisdom from selectors and team captains. And spinners tend to continue to improve with experience. The blossoming of Graeme Swann for England and Nathan Lyon for Australia in their later twenties have demonstrated the value of patience for test spinners.

Famously, Shane Warne’s first match figures were 1/150 against India at this same venue. After just half an innings of test cricket, Crane has figures of 1/135 after 39 overs. His captain has shown faith in continuing to bowl him, but his pitch map looks like a sheet of paper after my 3-year old has been let loose with a fresh set of stickers, and he’s been unable to stem the flow of runs from the Aussie batsman. However, the Australian selectors stuck with Warne and he bowled a spell of 5.1 overs, 3/11 in his third test against Sri Lanka before bowling Australia to a win in front of his home crowd at the MCG with 7/52 in the fourth innings against the West Indies in his fifth.

Edit: Since writing, Crane finished the 1st innings with 1/193, the most expensive England debut ever and 5th from all nations.

Hopefully, the selectors will show the same faith in Mason Crane.

I like to take my son swimming some weekends. We live right near a couple of pools, but I drive 20 minutes in the car to take him to a pool that has a kids’ pool next to the adult version. The deepest it gets is about a metre and the water’s a lot warmer (hopefully intentionally rather than due to the undoubted urine content). I want him to build confidence, develop his skills and have positive experiences to fall back on when we make the step up to swimming out of his depth.

In the Premier League, young players struggle to get appearances, but there is a widespread acknowledgement of the need to ease players in gradually. A promising player will almost invariably debut in a home game, often against inferior opposition and in a lesser competition than the all-important league matches. If they do well, they’ll get gradually more challenging assignments.

The Ashes is the ultimate competition in cricket. Australia are almost always a powerful side at home and playing a debutant spinner in that environment against the likes of Steve Smith and David Warner isn’t like throwing them in at the deep end so much as dropping them from a helicopter into the shark-infested surf of Jefferies Bay.

Whilst talking about the struggling Moeen Ali last week, Graeme Swann recalled his strategy for rebuilding confidence by watching old footage of his best bowling spells. Having those previous experiences can help a player who is finding it tough, as long as they have plenty of past successes already to draw on.

Jefferies bay
Jefferies Bay, South Africa

Mason Crane may take more wickets this match. He is undoubtedly a talented cricketer and good ‘leggies’ are hard to find. He may even end up improving his figures to the point of respectability. But Mason Crane is 20 years old. Mason Crane has played in 29 First Class matches in his lifetime. He should have been given the opportunity to develop his game, grow in experience, make his test debut in familiar conditions and against opponents less likely to crush his confidence as they crush his long-hops into the boundary ropes.

Mason Crane may in future be England’s greatest spinner. But right now, he’s just been thrown in at the deep end.