Nathan Lyon is one of several Australian cricketers who appear at the height of their game.

Aged 31 and on his third tour of England, Lyon contributed to Australia's victory in the opening Ashes test at Edgbaston by out-bowling his counterpart Moeen Ali by nine wickets to three and routing England on the fifth day.

"Come on, Lyno" will be heard frequently over the stump mics in the next five weeks when Lyon comes on to bowl his off-spin.

It is likely to be up there as one of the defining sounds this month, along with "long tailbacks" and "delays inevitable" on the traffic news.


"Bowled, Nathe" will become another familiar sound when one of his off-breaks is pushed by an English bat to short leg; or else Jason Roy rushes past it. "Nice, Garry!" will be audible, too, or "Nice one, Gazza" — an allusion to Garry Lyon, an Australian rules footballer turned radio show host.

Australia's off-spinner is also called "Goat", an acronym standing for the Greatest Of All Time. Lyon has taken more than twice as many test wickets — 352 at an average of 31.82 — as the next Australian off-spinner, and more than any other Australian spinner apart from Shane Warne.

Australia's previous head coach, Darren Lehmann, commentating on this test series for Macquarie Radio, goes so far as to say he "has been the difference between the teams so far". Not Steve Smith, nor Pat Cummins, two other Australians who are apparently at the height of their powers. "He [Lyon] has just got better and better, and over the last 18 months, he's been unbelievable.

"I've not seen another finger-spinner get so many revs on the ball," said Lehmann, Australia coach from 2013 to 2018. "Maybe Harbhajan Singh [of India] but not an orthodox off-spinner. At his best, Nathan is between 1800 and 2100."

That is, he makes the ball rotate between 1800 and 2100 revolutions per minute. The last Australia off-spinner to take 100 test wickets was Tim May in the 1990s.

"He had great revs, too, but was more injury-prone, whereas Lyon has got longevity," he said.

Lehmann first saw him when he was playing Twenty20 cricket for South Australia and was struck at once.

"He looked as though he had the mental strength. He hasn't really changed his action at all, just refined it, and got better and better. Yes, he's been the difference between the sides so far."


Lyon was born in Young in rural New South Wales. The family home had a driveway which sloped from one side to the other, and elder brother Brendan took one end to turn his leg-breaks down the slope. Younger brother was forced to take the other and adjust to the conditions with off-breaks.

Nathan Lyon, right, celebrates with teammates after dismissing England captain Joe Root during day five of the first Ashes Test cricket match between England and Australia. Photo / AP
Nathan Lyon, right, celebrates with teammates after dismissing England captain Joe Root during day five of the first Ashes Test cricket match between England and Australia. Photo / AP

Anyone in Australia, unlike England, can reach the top in cricket — but if born in the country, they have to move. The Lyon brothers went first to Canberra, when the capital was developing a T20 team, the Canberra Comets.

In 2010, Nathan took a job as a groundsman or curator at Adelaide Oval and broke into South Australia's team, although he has since moved back to New South Wales.

His first test ball in 2011 produced a wicket — the highly distinguished one of Kumar Sangakkara — and he was soon recognised as the long-sought successor to Warne, albeit not a wrist-spinner.

One of the few lean patches in Lyon's career was in county cricket with Worcestershire over four championship matches in 2017, but only one was at home. In the other three, the hosts saw him coming and did not prepare a spinning pitch.

Lyon, though, is remembered at Worcester for mentoring their younger spinners, not that there were many. Pace bowlers have replaced pear orchards as Worcestershire's main produce.

Lyon has the honour of leading the Australia team song when they celebrate a test victory. As the holder of this office has to be in the team, it almost guarantees a place.

"Underneath the Southern Cross, I stand/

"A sprig of wattle in my hand/

"A native of our native land/

"Australia, you f—ing beauty!"

If England hear this song being chanted in the Lord's pavilion at the end of the second test, and on one more occasion this northern summer, they will not regain the Ashes.

Lyon's physique is whippy, rubbery, almost elastic, so he puts a lot of body into his bowling — his speed was around 100km/h at times at Edgbaston, Moeen's well below — and he has long and strong fingers, remarkably uncalloused, which help him vary between off-spin and over-spin in all sorts of gradations.

Every "offie" loves a "leftie", and especially Lyon in England, where half his 34 wickets have been left-handed batsmen, at only 19 each.

At times in their second innings at Edgbaston, England's left-handers looked as though they were stabbing in the dark.

He is also Warne's successor in winding up opponents. After Joe Denly slog-swept him for two fours in an over at Edgbaston, Lyon during the next over went from cover to stand in the non-striker's crease and speak to him. It worked, because in Lyon's next over, with a deep midwicket posted, Denly played straight and was caught by short-leg.

The subtlety of a spinner at his best, like Lyon is now, takes more than one form; and his right hand holds more than a sprig of wattle.