December 21, 2016

Nice, Garry!

You've heard the chant. What has gone into the making of the accidental cult of Nathan Lyon?
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Insta-cult: Nathan "Garry" Lyon has become a social-media phenomenon lickety-split © Cricket Australia/Getty Images

We've all heard the refrain. It's so simple it borders on the inane. But Matthew Wade's repetitive chorus of "Nice, Garry!" echoed so much as to awaken something in Australia's national cricketing conscience. His banal encouragement, it turns out, triggered a legitimate phenomenon: the birth of a cult hero, Nathan Lyon.

There is an unmistakable, unique purity to cult heroes. They are more often than not born of public acclaim rather than marketing contrivance. Their creation is an inexact science, though elements remain common across sport and culture. Once public acclaim takes flight, it cannot be stopped.

So it is with Lyon. Last week at the Gabba, "Queensland's favourite son" elicited roars otherwise almost exclusively reserved for the state's own. Every delivery bowled, shot played or ball fielded triggered howls of joy. He's not a star player, so why were they cheering for him so much? Was it ironic?

The incongruous attention prompted laughs from a number of the Australian players, though Lyon's seemed a little more sheepish than those of the rest. Such was his growing status that many pondered whether the "Garry" effect was relevant to Queensland alone.

It is definitely not. One need only witness the clarion call on Facebook for revellers to make a world-record attempt for "most people yelling 'Niiice Garyyyy!' after his THIRD BALL at the Boxing Day Test!" to witness the blanket national affection for the man otherwise known as "GOAT". At last look, over nine thousand people had agreed to partake.

While Wade started the engine, social media drove the car. Already a trove of tributes to the "Nice, Garry!" phenomenon are littered across social platforms

Cricket has seen cult heroes before. Think Phil Tufnell, Chris Martin, Paul Adams, Eddo Brandes. Examples abound across all sports. John Daly and Matt Le Tissier from golf and football respectively might be considered cult heroes for their mercurial genius. Closer to Australia, Rugby League's Fuifui Moimoi engenders the same passion for his rugged approach and rhythmic name. AFL is a game strewn with beloved cult heroes, to the point where identifying one feels unfair to the others. Nevertheless, Sydney's Troy Luff fit the bill well for his no-frills approach and evident humility.

Lyon's ascent feels a little different. Because while his team-mate started the engine, social media drove the car. The Adelaide Test only finished three weeks ago, but already a trove of tributes to the "Nice, Garry!" phenomenon are littered across platforms. Cricket Australia, ever alert to the overlap of cricket and social media, packaged the phenomenon in a video here, but that's not where the real action lay. You can listen to Wade exclaiming a classic "Nice, Garry!" for an hour on repeat, you can listen to a "Nice, Garry!" remix, you can enjoy "Nice, Garry!" with music from Titanic, or sample the array of Nathan Lyon mash-ups alongside Pokemon, the Simpsons and Donald Trump, via the Nice Garry Official YouTube channel. Presumably the word "official" has been included in that title lest it be confused with the numerous other, unofficial, Lyon tribute channels.

If it all seems a little left-of-centre, that's because it is. Cult followings - whether in sport, music, film or otherwise - necessitates unusual expressions of devotion. The official Cult TV magazine wrote that "many cult fans express a certain irony about their devotion. Fans may become involved in a subculture of fandom, either via […] costume creation, replica prop and model building, or creating their own audio or video productions from the formats and characters." The devotion to Lyon has already seen manifestation of all those forms, and we're only just beginning.

But how did Lyon's take shape? There doesn't seem anything magical about it. Wade just gave him a nickname, repeated it incessantly, and here we are. The nickname itself is based on a well-trodden, simple formula. The subject coincidentally shares the surname of a hero from yesteryear (in this case former Melbourne AFL footballer Garry Lyon), ergo he is christened with the same first name. And for those unfamiliar with the real Garry, in a very neutral way there is nothing inherently humorous about the comparison. Garry was a very good footballer. Wade likes AFL. On the surface it appears just another standard Australian nickname. Some would say Wade was selected almost exclusively for his on-field "chat", but surely nobody guessed he could create a cultural phenomenon from behind the stumps?

"So here's how it's going to go down…" Ryan Pierse / © Getty Images

But to examine the nickname for clues to the phenomenon is to bowl "bad areas", so to speak. On the contrary, Lyon's cult heroism has its roots in Wade's refrain and Lyon himself. Wade's drawl - so lengthened, so repetitive, so unimaginative - lends an absurdity to the whole affair that social media gleefully devours. "Nice, Garry!" - once the earnest encouragement of a talkative keeper - now has a giddy, ironic dimension to it. Social media has given it a life of its own, and to see Wade bellowing his line is like seeing a meme brought to life. Peter Nevill may be able to take catches and score runs, but could he have done this?

And Lyon himself has always been a cult hero in waiting. He is an earthy character whose physique and art are inconsistent with the typical muscularity of Australian cricketers. He is Australia's third most prolific spinner, yet faces selectorial doubt on an almost monthly basis. He remains stoic throughout. In each of these traits he is a contrast to most of his colleagues, and perhaps it's this incongruity that endears him to so many.

For all the discussion of irony, Lyon's elevation is an earnest attempt to celebrate a guy who is down to earth, gives everything and bounces back. When footballer Luff was asked how he became a cult hero, his answer was instructive. He said, "I think they liked my journey - a normal, knockabout guy who had been kicked to the ground a few times and kept getting up before eventually making it. Obviously having the mullet helped a bit."

Lyon was already a cult hero in waiting. He just needed someone to turn on the light.

Sam Perry is a freelance sportswriter and co-author of The Grade Cricketer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • SenorCricket on December 29, 2016, 23:15 GMT

    Lyon is only the third most prolific spinner because he's played so many games. Hauritz' average of 34.98 wasn't good enough to keep him in the team, is Lyon's average of 34.18 that much better?

  • cornga4113811 on December 27, 2016, 7:18 GMT

    With an average of 34 over 61 tests Lyon is the worst regular spinner we have had in a long time. Smith has no faith in him. That is why he bowls our quicks into the ground. Something's gotta give

  • beastp5882989 on December 26, 2016, 17:24 GMT

    @MICHUA I have to strongly disagree with you there. Zampa or O'Keefe aren't Test Match quality and besides, Lyon is a gutsy batsman, an important fielder, a big figure outside and in the dressing room and more importantly for those who aren't interested in the psychological aspects, THE BEST OZ SPINNER SINCE WARNE.

  • sanjoy on December 26, 2016, 8:03 GMT

    Why OZ selectors are insisting on this ordinary spinner,lyon who hardly can go through any side even after bowling for 60 overs.He should be replaced with Zampa or O'Keef.

  • kulaya3918804 on December 26, 2016, 0:31 GMT

    "He would not get into the Indian or English teams..." Lyon couldn't get into the English team?!? You have got to be joking!! I suppose you would pick 39-year-old Gareth Batty instead? Lyon is no Warne, but he is better than all England's current spinners put together.

  • masrta7371949 on December 25, 2016, 21:16 GMT

    MODERNUMPIRESPLZ - Spot on! Even if Smith brings Lyon on early, he sets terrible fields which makes Lyon bowl a leg stump line. His awful series against Pakistan in UAE was because Smith set him ODI fields. I can't believe Lehmann or someone doesn't step in; surely they'd see it!

  • James on December 23, 2016, 9:07 GMT

    @MAJOR_FUDGEPACKER- someone with the skills of Lyon could just walk into the English team right now.

  • rob on December 22, 2016, 20:59 GMT

    @ ModernUmps: Perhaps, but it's a bit of a chicken and the egg scenario. There have been times when Smith has put his faith in Lyon and given him long spells but Gazz has failed to deliver. As soon as he gets hit he starts bowling darts at the pads. Smith seems reluctant to bowl him but maybe it's because he's lost confidence in him. The only way out of the spiral is for Lyon to bowl better than he has been. Smith can't do that for him.

  • cornel0102503 on December 22, 2016, 13:54 GMT

    Lyon is the best of a weak bunch of spinners. He would not get into the Indian or English teams and probably not the NZ or SA teams either. Our spin bowling is in a crisis at the present time and this is our biggest problem

  • awahid1982050 on December 22, 2016, 12:46 GMT

    "Ai hai hai" is another phrase that caught some attention - Sarfraz saying it when Yasir bowls someone

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