Lyon twirls through spinning-finger pain
Over the past six years, Nathan Lyon has often had reason to worry about his role in the Australian Test team. Seldom, though, has this had anything to do with a case of physical infirmity. A durable body has been central to Lyon's tenure, even to the point that other challengers for a spin berth have missed chances to replace him by dint of their own injuries.
However this week in Ranchi, Lyon is entering arguably the most important Test match of his career with a red-raw spinning finger on his right hand, the aftermath of a split callus caused by bowling so many overs in India's spin-friendly conditions, often with a new and hard SG ball. Lyon would be the last man to play this up, but his discomfort during the latter stages of the Bengaluru match, having claimed eight memorable victims on day one, was obvious.
"I've bowled a lot of balls over the summer and it usually happens once or twice a year," Lyon said. "The last time I was here, the same thing happened in the third Test and I was able to play three days later. So I'm more than confident in turning out for the next Test, depending on selection I guess.
"It's just one of those things. It just split. It was pretty painful there for a bit. And you can't bowl on tape - there's rules and laws out there that you can't bowl on tape. So I wasn't even considering that. There was a little sharp bit on the quarter seam and I just caught it, catching a couple of times. It just split. There's no rocket science to it. I had a split finger. That's it.
"Yeah it hurts a lot. I'm able to bowl cross-seam and stuff, so I can still try to spin it, but for variations and trying to get drift and drop and stuff - two go at the back of the ball - the way I bowl. It does impede it a little bit, but we've gone through that now and moved on from the second Test and now I'm just looking forward to Ranchi."
A sore spinning finger from plenty of bowling is the sort of problem many a spinner has dealt with, and a problem all would like to have. Lyon's is in many ways symptomatic of Australia's fortunes in this series - like the fallout from Bengaluru, it is a by-product of doing far better against India than many had expected.
"Yeah definitely there's a lot of belief. There's a lot of people who wrote us off, before we even got on a plane and landed in Dubai. Let alone coming over here," Lyon said. "Everyone said that we were going to lose 4-0. It's 1-1, we're one win away from regaining the trophy and that's what we are here to do.
"The pressure is right on India - there's no pressure on us. Everyone said we were going to lose 4-nil, they're no good. They're a young cricket team learning. But we believe we can beat the best teams anywhere in the world. We proved that in the first Test, we came close in the second Test and even that hurt - that's probably the best thing about that game. That hurt from losing, but being able to get so close to them.
"So we know they're a brilliant team in these conditions. So if we can keep competing hard against them, who knows. Keep batting well in partnerships, bowling well in partnerships, taking 20 wickets and we'll see where we get to. I think they're feeling the pressure a little bit to be honest. And it's good."
A hallmark of Lyon's work so far in this series has been the vast majority of his overs delivered from over the wicket to the right-handers. Gone are the days when Lyon used the line from around the stumps as a security blanket, but he said that the pitch chosen by India's captain Virat Kohli for the Ranchi Test would play a role in which angle from he attacked - and also whether Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc's replacement gained much in the way of reverse swing.
"The last two pitches I've been able to get good bounce, sharp bounce and fast spin off the wicket as well," he said. "If the wicket wasn't doing that as much, then I'd look at the option of coming around the wicket. But it just really depends on the type of wicket. I know there's three wickets at Ranchi, so we'll just have to wait and see which one they play.
"I think the wickets are abrasive enough in India that we can hopefully get the ball reverse-swinging. We saw Josh Hazlewood take six wickets and Mitchell Starc did what he did in the second innings. With our air speed and ability to get the ball reversing, and the earlier we can do that the better off it is, but the wickets here are that abrasive that normally the ball can tend to go reverse quite early anyway."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig