March 17, 2017

Nathan Lyon's second-innings problems in Asia

Nathan Lyon's performance in the Bengaluru Test underscored his tendency to perform well in the first innings in Asia, but fade away in the second

In Tests in Asia, Nathan Lyon's second-innings average drops by 57% when compared to his first © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Nathan Lyon's Test debut was a sensational one: against Sri Lanka in Galle, he struck with his first ball, and the batsman he dismissed was no less a name than Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka's best. The ball was a peach too; here is ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball commentary of that dismissal: 'Lyon to Sangakkara, OUT, he has struck first ball, would you believe it! He has got Kumar Sangakkara, of all men, what a first Test wicket to have, off your first ball, flight from round the wicket, grip, turn, bounce, Sanga hangs out the bat away from the body, with a bit of an open face, Clarke snaps it up low with a lunge to his left at slip, superb catch'.

Lyon continued to be a huge threat through the rest of that innings, and finished with outstanding figures of 5 for 34 from 15 overs. When the fourth innings of the match came along, with Sri Lanka required to chase an improbable 379 to win, it was expected that Lyon would play a huge role again. As it turned out, he only dismissed Suranga Lakmal, the Sri Lankan No. 10, in the innings, and returned figures of 1 for 73 from 19.5 overs. Luckily Ryan Harris was the top of his game, and his 5 for 62 ensured a relatively comfortable win for Australia.

For Lyon, that debut Test has unfortunately set a template for his performances in first and second innings, especially in Asia. In the second Test of that series, in Pallekele, he took 2 for 41 in Sri Lanka's first innings, and none for 52 in their second. In the 2013 series in India, there was more of the same in the Delhi Test, when he took 7 for 94 in India's first innings, and followed up with 2 for 71 in their second. Most recently, of course, that tendency was prominently on display again in Bengaluru, when his astonishing 8 for 50 was followed by none for 82.

Over his Test career so far, the difference between his first- and second-innings bowling stats in Asia is quite stark: he averages an impressive 30.84 in the first innings, but in the second he concedes nearly 50 per wicket. And the economy rate is marginally worse as well.

Nathan Lyon in Tests in Asia
Innings Overs Wickets Ave Econ SR 5-fors
 First  338.4  38  30.84  3.46  53.4  3
 Second  228.3  17  48.35  3.59  80.6  0

Outside Asia, though, there is little to choose between his first- and second-innings numbers: the average, economy rates and strike rates are nearly the same. In fact, in Australia, he does better in the second innings: in 32 Tests, he has 58 first-innings wickets at 37.86, and 60 second-innings wickets at 31.35. For a bowler who relies on overspin and bounce as much as he does on turn, the Australian pitches usually offer more bounce later in a Test than Asian ones, while also offering more turn as the game goes on. On the other hand, in Asia the bounce often diminishes late into a Test match, which seems to hamper Lyon's effectiveness even though the surface offers more turn. In Bengaluru he was clearly hindered by a blister to his bowling finger, but there is a pattern to his Asian numbers that goes beyond just this one Test.

Nathan Lyon in Tests outside Asia
Innings Overs Wickets Ave Econ SR 5-fors
 First  1076.2  101  32.76  3.07  63.9  3
 Second  865.3  85  31.43  3.08  61  2

Among the 32 non-Asian spinners who have bowled at least 100 second-innings overs in Asia, Lyon's average of 48.35 is fifth from the bottom. Two of the four with poorer averages are fingerspinners who played in the 1960s - Peter Parfitt and Don Wilson, both from England - while another, Carl Hooper, is primarily a batsman who bowled a bit. The only specialist spinner with a poorer average in the last 50 years is New Zealand's Jeetan Patel, who has averaged 53.20 in the opposition's second innings.

Along with Lyon's average, his economy rate of 3.59 is a problem too. It is the fifth-highest among these 32 spinners, and indicates that he is unable to exert much control even in terms of curbing the runs in the second innings.

Among overseas spinners who have bowled 100-plus overs in the second innings in Asia, Lyon's average is among the poorest © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

On the other hand, Lyon's first-innings numbers in Asia compare quite favourably with the best overseas spinners: among all non-Asian spinners who have bowled 100-plus overs in the first innings in Asia since the start of 1980, only eight out of 42 have better averages than Lyon's 30.84.

Among those eight, two spinners - Daniel Vettori and Stuart MacGill - benefited from playing a series against a relatively weak Bangladesh team: Vettori took 18 of his 64 wickets against them, and MacGill 11 of his 22. Excluding those series, Vettori's first-innings average goes up to 36.10, and MacGill's to 35.27. Lyon moves up to a highly respectable seventh among 41 spinners.

1st-inngs stats for non-Asian spinners in Asia in Tests since Jan 1980 (Min 100 overs)
Player Inns Overs Wkts Average Econ SR 5WI
 Stephen Boock  6  156.0  16  22.18  2.27  58.5  1
 Stuart MacGill  7  172.1  22  25.63  3.27  46.9  2
 Graeme Swann  13  352.5  39  26.41  2.91  54.2  2
 Paul Adams  11  216.4  27  26.55  3.30  48.1  3
 Shane Warne  25  662.0  74  26.59  2.97  53.6  7
 Tim May  5  136.1  13  27.07  2.58  62.8  0
 Derek Underwood  8  195.0  14  29.07  2.08  83.5  1
 Daniel Vettori  19  736.1  64  29.40  2.55  69.0  5
 Nathan Lyon  13  338.4  38  30.84  3.46  53.4  3

A further break-up of Lyon's numbers against right- and left-hand batsmen clearly shows his ineffectiveness against right-handers in the second innings: a first-innings average of 33.70 balloons in the second innings to 54.76. Against left-handers, the average is much better in the first innings as well.

Against an Indian line-up stacked with right-handers, Lyon has an opportunity to work on those numbers, and how he fares against them will probably have a huge bearing on the final series verdict.

Lyon v right- and left-hand batsmen in Asia
  Right-handers Left-handers
Innings Wkts Ave Econ Wkts Ave Econ
First 30 33.70 3.52 8 20.12 3.07
Second 13 54.76 3.60 4 27.50 3.52

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. @rajeshstats

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • stephe4177334 on March 20, 2017, 18:24 GMT

    The problem with Nathan Lyon, is that he is not an exceptional spinner like Ashwin. He often bowls too fast or the wrong line. Why are we not utilizing Mitchell Swepson? Yes, he hasn't played a test before. But a leggie may be just what we need!

  • Alan on March 18, 2017, 16:49 GMT

    Very simplistic analysis. And anyone who says that Lyon doesn't get revs on the ball is doesn't watch much cricket or is deluded. He probably gets more than any finger spinner in the world....far, far more than Ashwin

  • Iman on March 17, 2017, 20:23 GMT

    The difference between him and Ashwin in helpful conditions is like the difference between Anderson and Kasorowicz. Kasper is a better all wicket bowler, but given helpful ones, Kasper would still remain an all wicket bowler and Ashwin will win you series single handedly. Same for Ashwin in the subcontinent. Thus Ashwin in subcontinent and Anderson in England, is still a better bet than Kasper in England and Lyon in the subcontinent.

  • coolng0903367 on March 17, 2017, 17:27 GMT

    What if feel that Lyon relies more on bounce and speed to get wickets. He uses he body and shoulder to get the bounce and there are little revs on the ball. Whereas, if you compare it with that of swann who use to give considerable revs to the ball, in addition to using his body to get the ball speed and bounce. On slow wickets in asia you would get good bounce in the first innings and as the game goes on, the wicket gets slower and lower. Thats why it is difficult for Lyon to get wickets in second innings of the match. In the second innings he needs to bowl a bit slower, give more flight and revolutions to the ball and try to spin it hard. In addition to the spin, he would also get the drift which would make him more dangerous. Im sure he can be a good spinner if he could work on spinning and drifting the ball .

  • Rakesh on March 17, 2017, 14:37 GMT

    @VNOTT : That is why the avg and the strike rates are matters , not the innings :)

  • Pelham on March 17, 2017, 8:44 GMT

    It might be worth noting that Peter Parfitt, even more than Carl Hooper, was principally in the side as a batsman.

  • venkataramana rao on March 17, 2017, 3:02 GMT

    Dear Rajesh, there is a basic problem in this analysis. We have to see how many of those matches were lost by Australia. It is very likely that Australia has not won many matches and the targets were relatively easy / not difficult. This means Lyon did not have runs to bowl within the 2nd innings. There will be exceptions like the Bangalore test. Unless you factor this in, you might end up with erroneous conclusions. Can you make an addition to this analysis in which Australia won and see how Lyon has fared? Also, see matches where the opposition had first innings lead in excess of 100. Also, see matches where opposition played last and had a target of more than 100.

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