Nathan Lyon is on track to leave Sri Lanka as the world’s most potent Test offspinner since Muttiah Muralitharan in a stunning endorsement of the Australian’s rise.
Lyon climbed from 13th to 10th in the all-time leading wicket-taker rankings in the first Test in Galleas he claimed nine scalps and Australia romped to victory over Sri Lanka inside three days.
South African quick Dale Steyn sits three wickets ahead of Lyon on 439 Test victims in ninth, while Ravichandran Ashwin is in eighth spot with 442.
Ashwin is not playing in India’s current Test against England at Edgbaston, and does not have another on the horizon until November.
If Lyon can take seven or more wickets in the second Test, only Muralitharan’s 800 wickets would stand above him for offspinners in Test history.
“I’m not really sure where I stand on ( the all-time wicket-taking) list … (but) the top end of the wicket takers, there’s some amazing names there,” Lyon said during the first Test win.
“For me it’s always been about the team … it’s something I’m proud of but will look at in more depth at the end of my career.
“But that’s a long way off.”
Regardless, his achievement is remarkable when considering he didn’t play first-class cricket until he was 23 years old before making his Test debut seven months later.
“You could see that skill level straight away,” New Zealand spin legend and Australia’s assistant coach Daniel Vettori, who played against Lyon in his fifth career Test, said.
“There are very few bowlers who are able to be consistent with that amount of top spin and revolutions. It’s a really tricky thing to do.
“And then you see the development of that bowler, to read conditions, to add things to his armoury and a desire to just keep wanting to get better.”
Australia expect another big-turning track for Friday’s second Test in Galle but are unlikely to change their attack or even consider bringing in an extra spinner in Jon Holland.
It was once the wickets of the sub-continent that were the most difficult for Lyon to conquer.
But the 34-year-old has now learned to use his top spin and bounce to his advantage.
Five of Lyon’s nine wickets in the first Test came with the hosts trying to sweep or reverse-sweep him, beaten by the Australia’s bounce and turn as they struggled to get over the ball.
Lyon has also spoken at length about his willingness to depart from the usual shape he bowls in Australia when on the subcontinent, becoming Australia’s best in these conditions in recent years.
It’s a tactical change that looms as crucial ahead of next year’s four-Test tour of India, where Lyon will play a big role.
“Because his stock ball is so amazing, sometimes for him that is good enough,” Vettori, who took 362 Test wickets, said.
“But for his development, he is looking to bring variations in. Different balls, over and around the wicket. He is very receptive to all information.”
MOST WICKETS AS AN OFFSPINNER IN TEST HISTORY:
Muttiah Muralitharan: 800
Ravichandran Ashwin: 442
Nathan Lyon: 436
Rangana Herath: 433*
Harbhajan Singh: 417
Daniel Vettori: 362
* Denotes left-arm orthordox bowler