Lehmann declares Lyon could be spin king
CRICKET: Nathan Lyon is a man riding high on confidence after an "exceptional” performance in Australia's 10-wicket victory in the Gabba Test earned him praise as the best spinner in the world.
But even Lyon might raise his eyebrows at the latest compliment handed down by national coach Darren Lehmann, who has made the startling call that the 30-year-old can rival Shane Warne as Australia's greatest Test wicket taker.
Lehmann specified that Lyon would need to take on a Warne-like confidence level to achieve the feat but said reaching 700 Test wickets was not impossible.
Warne finished his glittering Australian career with 708 wickets and is clear atop the Aussie wicket-takers list, with partner-in-crime Glenn McGrath a full 145 wickets behind in second place with 563 scalps.
Lyon has risen rapidly in the past 24 months to surge into Australia's top 10, currently sitting in seventh with 274 victims.
He bowled with superb control in Brisbane, where his match figures of 5-145 hardly did the affable off-spinner justice, in a performance Lehmann described as "exceptional”.
Lyon is currently enjoying his best calendar year to date, taking 51 wickets in 2017 from just eight Tests at the outstanding average of 22.
He still has three Tests remaining and will likely finish ahead of the current leader, South African paceman Kagiso Rabada, who has 54 wickets, to end the year as the world's leading wicket-taker.
His current hot form follows on from successful years in 2016 (41) and 2015 (48).
But, trailing Warne by 434 wickets, even averaging 50 wickets a year Lyon would need to play until he was 39 - two years older than Warne was when he retired following the 2006-07 Ashes whitewash - to reach that mark.
"Warnie was a freak of nature and one of a kind,” said Lehmann, who played alongside Warne during Australia's era of dominance in the 1990s and 2000s.
"Nathan has just developed a really good self-belief with his bowling and what he wants to achieve.
"You wind the clock back 12 months ago and he was a little down.
"Through some good performances, and especially away from home, he has just gone to another level which is great.
"He has always put the hours in and he has done all the work himself. The belief comes with success.
"For me it's about the mental side of the game, which he has gotten above now.
"He really believes he will get a wicket every ball, which is a great weapon for us.”
What makes Lyon's current surge even more impressive is how well he has fought back from being on the brink of a Test axing for much of his career.
This is the first summer where Lyon's place in the team hasn't been firmly under the spotlight, with the 30-year-old truly blossoming as a bowler in 2017.
National selector Greg Chappell admits Lyon may have taken slightly longer than expected to reach his peak, but now he's there he agrees with Lehmann that Lyon is on another plane to his rivals, describing him as the best spinner on the planet.
"There was always the expectation or the belief that this was the sort of bowler he could become,” Chappell said.
"Everyone travels at a different pace, maybe we expected he might have been at this point a little bit earlier but the growth in him in the last 12 months is great to see.
"He is now a world-class bowler, maybe the best spin bowler in the world.
"Nathan at the Gabba was exceptional. Bowling to the left-handers, he would worry every one of them I'd guess.”