Nathan Lyon has never been the type let his guard down when a microphone is in front of him. Sure, he was always unlikely to be the most verbose of characters, having arrived at international cricket from nowhere as a shy 23-year-old who had never been on the national pathway until months before his extraordinary debut in 2011.
However, after a while, we learned not to expect an awful lot more than the spinner’s default patter, insisting that any personal success was purely a result of his colleagues and that his happiness was defined only by wins or losses.
With this in mind, when Lyon did open up just a tad after a big win in 2015, it was worth paying attention. He did have a goal for his career, but he was not going to share it with us. Maybe it was overtaking the 255 Test wickets of Graeme Swann, an opponent who was not overly generous about his skills when they faced off. Or perhaps the 309 scalps taken by Lance Gibbs, another great offspinner he met in a Caribbean bar in 2012?
Less likely is that back then, at least, after he had been overlooked for shinier alternatives a couple of times, he could have imagined earning a 100th Test cap. But now that it is here, it is clear Lyon is nothing short of chuffed about reaching the milestone at the Gabba on Friday. “I’ve tried in the past not to look too far ahead but I’m pretty excited about this one,” he told us. “I’m myself each and every day, to see my name up against those fellows, and being the 13th player to do so, it is very humbling.”
Nagging as it will be, it feels somewhat appropriate that Lyon’s landmark week comes after one in Sydney that did not go to plan in a summer where little has gone his way. Try as he might and unlucky as he was, he finished with 2/114 in Monday’s fourth innings. These, the internet quickly realised, were the same figures with which he finished in the fateful final stanza at Leeds in 2019. Lyon has always done it the hard way, a journey riddled with troughs that could have ended the career of lesser bowlers. He has learned how to bounce back with the best of them.
As a younger player, Lyon was forced to roll with those punches of practising cricket’s least-sexy craft, responding, therefore, that the best advice he can offer those coming after him is to play with a smile and not to cast their thinking too far ahead. To that end, do not expect his six wickets at 58 runs apiece in this series to weigh him down ahead of the upcoming encounter – one of the biggest of his career, with the series on the line. “There’s been some highs and lows,” he acknowledged. “It’s the amazing thing about Test cricket I’ve learnt so much and grown in confidence quite a fair bit.”
Among Lyon’s reflections of a decade well spent at the crease was his seven-wicket bag at Adelaide Oval to single-handedly bowl India out in the Test match that followed Philip Hughes’s passing. He also had plenty to say about the politics of the day. Specifically, he was happy to show solidarity with opponents who had been sledged over the fence at Sydney, saying that the abusive habits of old need to be eradicated. It was an impressive from a man who has found his voice and slowly warmed to the fact he is a senior player with broader leadership responsibilities as a result.
However, when the presentations are complete, Lyon knows it will be actions with ball in hand that will talk loudest. His record of 35 victims at under 30 at the Gabba can only be encouraging; the extra bounce has always served him well. Also, four wickets will be enough for him to go through another momentous barrier – 400 Test wickets; Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath are the only two Australians with that on their CV. And from Lyon’s perspective, having turned 33 just last month there is no reason this will be the last set of markers that he supasses. “I’m far from being done,” he said. “I’m still hungrier than ever.”
That is as Tim Paine will want Lyon – on the hunt and fired up. So, enough of all this fuss, he will be thinking he has a job to do. Just as he likes it.