Nathan Lyon has forged a career setting new benchmarks for his once-unfashionable craft, and has now broken more new ground by becoming the first specialist finger spinner to be named Australia’s men’s Test Player of the Year.
As one of only four players – along with skipper Tim Paine, Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh – to have played all 10 Tests during the voting period, Lyon polled a combined total of 25 votes from his teammates and umpires/media representatives.
That placed him three votes clear of fast bowler Pat Cummins, with Khawaja (17), Paine (nine) and Mitchell Marsh (eight) rounding out the top five that was unveiled at tonight’s Australian Cricket Awards ceremony in Melbourne.
Lyon becomes just the second specialist bowler to be crowned best men’s Test player in the past decade, with Mitchell Starc having taken out the prize in 2017.
Since Brett Lee’s name was inscribed upon the honour roll in 2008, the prize has been largely shared by batters with Michael Clarke winning it four times, Steve Smith (twice) and Simon Katich, Shane Watson and David Warner once each.
The fact that no other finger spinner has won the award in its 20-year history, and that legendary leg spinner Shane Warne was only crowned Test Player of the Year once (in 2006) provides a clear indicator of Lyon’s feat.
While Lyon was a consistent contributor to Australia’s unsuccessful Test campaigns in South Africa and then the UAE (against Pakistan), it was his performances in the first two Tests of the Domain Series against India that lifted him to the prize.
His match return of 8-205 (plus an unbeaten 38 in Australia’s bold run chase) in the first Test at Adelaide was followed by 8-106 in a player-of-the-match performance in his team’s 146-run win over the world’s top-ranked team in Perth.
That was one of only two Test wins that Australia recorded during the award’s voting period, with Lyon having previously led the team song at Durban in the opening Test of the ill-fated South Africa tour.
Lyon polled the maximum available votes in both those opening Tests against India, and ultimately polled in six of the 10 Tests played during the voting period.
His return of 49 wickets at an average of 34.80 across the voting period was not only statistically superior to Australia’s next-best Test bowler (Pat Cummins with 36 at 23.92).
It was second only to Sri Lanka off-spinner Dilruwan Perera (50 at 29.32) in Tests played worldwide throughout the year-long voting period.
However, all but two of Lyon’s Test appearances came on the seamer-friendly pitches of Australia and South Africa, whereas Perera played more than half his Tests on traditional spinners’ tracks in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
It was during Australia’s controversy-plagued tour to South Africa last year that Lyon became the sixth Australia bowler to reach 300 wickets, and he has since overtaken Brett Lee (310) and Mitchell Johnson (313) to be ranked fourth on the all-time Test list.
The 31-year-old is currently just 14 scalps adrift of third-placed Dennis Lillee, and is a good chance to move to third behind only Warne (708) and Glenn McGrath (563) during the five-Test Ashes series in the UK later this year.
Just as significantly, Lyon’s 341 Test wickets at 32.08 from 85 Tests is bettered only among the off-spinners’ fraternity by India’s Ravi Ashwin (342) and Harbhajan Singh (417), as well as the all-time leading Test wicket-taker Muthiah Muralidaran from Sri Lanka (800).
With that trio all having benefited from playing a majority of their Test cricket on spinning pitches in Asian countries.
During the voting period, former captain Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner – who were both suspended in the wake of the sandpaper incident at Cape Town – polled two and one votes respectively.
The other player who was banned as a result of that incident, Cameron Bancroft, received three votes for his batting in the third Test against South Africa at Newlands (two player votes and one umpire/media vote) having scored 77 in Australia’s first innings.
Test Player of the Year
Nathan Lyon – 25 votes
Pat Cummins – 22
Usman Khawaja 17
Tim Paine – 9
Mitch Marsh – 8