They say that if you can bowl spin well in Australia, you can bowl it well anywhere. This decade, Test spinners have conceded 47 runs per wicket in Australia – the second highest in the world, and 11 runs more than in England.
That Australia is not the most expensive place for spin is down to Nathan Lyon alone: he averages 33 down under this decade, even while Ravichandran Ashwin and Graeme Swann have averaged around 50. In his five Tests in Australia, Moeen Ali averages 115.
Through bounce, flight, subtle variations and relentless accuracy, Lyon has found a way to prosper for eight years in the most insalubrious conditions for his art. As he has done so, he has become Australia’s accidental great: the fourth highest wicket-taker in the country’s Test history, who now requires just four more to vault past Dennis Lillee.
But, all the while, one blemish has remained. Unusually, Lyon’s fourth-innings record is inferior to his overall average; he has not always seemed to relish going from support act to the main man.
On the final day at Edgbaston, Australia’s hopes of taking all 10 English second-innings wickets on a pitch that was wearing but, by the standard of fifth days, was nothing treacherous, rested chiefly with Lyon. He was the centrepiece of the time-honoured, final-day plan: first-choice spinner from one end, while the quicks rotate from the other. And, while the pitch was offering useful turn and bounce, Moeen Ali’s ordeal the preceding day was a reminder that these brought no guarantees.