Garry the goat

Nathan Lyon heads into his fourth Ashes campaign full of confidence after a career defining 2017 has seen him reach the top of his game.


(Photo Credit: AFP).


“Nice, Garry!”

It’s Boxing Day 2016 and 63,478 people are packed inside the Melbourne Cricket Ground eagerly anticipating the spell of a certain Australian bowler. No, it’s not the fearsome pace of Mitchell Starc or the unerring accuracy of Josh Hazlewood they’re after, it’s the offspin of Nathan Lyon.

They were there to witness a phenomenon. The “Nice, Garry!” phenomenon. It had begun weeks earlier during a day/night Test match at the Adelaide Oval when wicketkeeper Matthew Wade, recently recalled to the side for his chirpiness behind the stumps, devised the rallying cry in a throwback similar to Ian Healy’s famous “Bowling Shane!” tagline witnessed throughout the 1990’s.

Wade’s catchphrase quickly went viral and soon escalated into a nationwide Nathan Lyon-love fest, so much so that it now had its own Facebook page. Heading into the Melbourne Test over 22,000 Facebook users signed a petition campaigning for the MCG crowd to collectively yell the, now famous, slogan whenever Lyon delivered the third ball of his opening spell.

Lo and behold, Lyon’s cult following grew to further heights when, right on cue, he sent the festive crowd into a frenzy by having Pakistani opener Sami Aslam caught at slip halfway through his opening over.

The once unheralded Lyon had now become a fully-fledged Australian cult hero. However, things could easily have turned out much different…




Just weeks earlier, Lyon’s 2016 was heading towards an uncertain end. He was on the verge of being dropped from the Test side after a disastrous defeat to South Africa in Hobart coincided with his own slump in form and confidence. At one point he’d failed to take a single wicket in 660 first-class deliveries split between the Sheffield Shield and Test cricket.

If not for an untimely calf niggle suffered by New South Wales teammate Steve O’Keefe then Lyon would certainly have swapped places with his fellow spinner, thus finishing the year in domestic cricket.

Despite the memorable dismissal of Sami Aslam, his place in the side was once again in jeopardy heading into the final day of the Boxing Day fixture. The fanfare of that first-innings dismissal masked over his poor returns of 1-115 in the first dig. Then came the turning point. Faced with a straight forward looking final day survival act on a flat wicket, Pakistan collapsed in a heap to lose the match by an innings and 18 runs. Lyon’s contributions were massive. It was his scalps of Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq and Asad Shafiq that broke the back of a strong Pakistani middle order.

For Lyon, things had started to fall back into place – his roar was back!

Despite an up-and-down year with the ball – in which the nadir came when he was largely held accountable for a 3-0 series reverse in Sri Lanka – he still managed to conclude 2016 with a respectable 41 Test wickets at 36.34.




After a difficult 2016, Lyon entered this year with plenty to prove, not least to himself. His biggest challenge was always likely to be how he performed on the spin friendly subcontinental wickets of India and Bangladesh. He has since dispelled all the doubts surrounding his place in the side and propelled himself into the elite bracket of spin bowlers across world cricket.

Heading into Australia’s four-Test tour of India in February, Lyon held an unflattering bowling record in Asia. Spread across 11 Tests his 42 wickets had cost him 42.57 apiece. Since then his six matches have yielded a further 41 wickets at just 19.39.

After playing second fiddle to O’Keefe during Australia’s opening Test victory in Pune, he burst into life in Bengaluru taking first innings returns of 8-50 before following up with 5-92 in the final Test in Dharamsala. Despite finishing the series on the losing side, Lyon (with 19 wickets at 25.26) had finally conquered his final frontier with success on Asian soil.

Further success was enjoyed throughout Lyon’s first tour of Bangladesh where he claimed 9-161 during a losing cause in Dhaka before bowling Australia to a series-levelling victory in Chittagong with excellent match figures of 13-154.

His superb form across 2017 has seen him rewarded with a place in the ICC’s top ten bowling rankings for the first time in his Test career.




And so, ten years after his retirement, Australia finally appear to have a worthy spin successor to Shane Warne. He might not carry the same – on and off field – swagger as Warne, but six years after his Test debut, Nathan Michael Lyon is now enjoying a purple patch that is rapidly elevating him into Australian cricketing folklore.

For years his Test career often slipped under the radar. It easy to forget he was handed his Baggy Green as far back as 2011 and equally surprising that he’ll play his 70th Test match at the Gabba against England in two weeks’ time. And yet his numbers stack up against the very best in the modern era – (to date his 69 Tests have yielded 269 Test wickets at a highly respectable average of 31.83).

An unassuming character and very much a ‘team first’ man, he hasn’t got the X-factor of a David Warner, Mitchell Starc or Pat Cummins. Instead he’s his own man. Nathan Lyon is just… Well…Nathan Lyon – or perhaps Lyono, Garry, Gaz or the Goat if you’d prefer.

He earned his latest nickname The Goat after passing Hugh Trumble’s tally of 141 Test wickets in 2015 to become Australia’s greatest offspinner of all time. Before that he was more commonly known as Garry after the legendary AFL player Garry Lyon. Either way, he now stands behind only the great man Warne as Australian’s leading Test spin bowler.

A former Adelaide Oval groundskeeper turned Aussie team song leader, he’s been through more ups and downs in his 69-Test career than most. In 2013, he was dropped from the side twice in the space of three matches. For the Australian selectors it seemed there was always a sexier spin bowling option around the corner, except it turned out there wasn’t.

Until recently, Lyon’s relationship with the Australian public hasn’t always been all that smooth. There were times they forgot he was playing. There were times they wished he wasn’t playing. There were times they wished he was playing. There were times they wished he was Warnie, then the times they were just pleased he wasn’t just another Beau Casson or Jason Krejza. There were times they hated on him, times they loved him, and then the bizarre times they simply worshiped him.

Yet Lyon doesn’t get too high or low, he simply gets on with the task in hand. Bowling offspin in Australia is hard enough art without worrying about the uncontrollable. In fact, for a bowler with no particular mystery to talk of, his numbers on home soil (118 wickets at 34.55) compare admirably against his away record (151 wickets at 29.71).

Earlier in his career, his inability to dismiss Faf du Plessis and his South African colleagues on a fifth day wicket at the Adelaide Oval in 2012 carried a heavy weight on his slender shoulders. It took two years before he was remotely forgiven for this misdemeanour. His breakout performance came at an incredibly sad juncture in Australian cricket, when in the wake of the tragic death of Phillip Hughes’, Lyon took 12 wickets to bowl the Aussies to a last-gasp victory against India in Adelaide.

Since then he’s been a fixture in the side without ever feeling truly safe over his place until earlier this year.

So, what does the future hold for Lyon?

Only due to turn 30 three days before the Ashes begin, there appears plenty of bowling left in Lyon yet. It could be said that Warne enjoyed the best years of his Test career after turning 30. In fact, he took 386 of his 708 Test wickets after hitting the big 3-0 as he continued to add nous and guile to his already impressive repertoire of skills.

While Lyon has established himself as an excellent Test bowler, he’ll be eager to revive his stop-start limited overs career with a view to being involved in Australia’s World Cup defence in 2019. Despite making his ODI debut in March 2012, he’s earned just 13 caps and a solitary T20I appearance as others such as legspinner Adam Zampa have been preferred.

However, right now the ODI renaissance can wait for another day, there’s an Ashes series to be won.

Rewind – When Lara ruled the world, again

Six months after losing his world record, The Prince of Port-of-Spain was back leading redemption over England to the small tune of 400 not out.

Photo credit: AFP
Photo credit: AFP

When Brian Lara broke Sir Garfield Sobers 36-year-old world record Test score in 1994, he achieved something all of us could only ever dream of. When he regained his own record ten years later, he achieved greatness.

It was the Easter weekend of 2004; War-torn Iraq was implicated in more conflict as it marked the first anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s fall as president, Nepal witnessed protestors lining the streets of Kathmandu pleading against the suspension of democracy and Phil Mickelson celebrated victory in the 68th Golf Masters at Augusta.

Meanwhile over in Antigua, Brian Charles Lara, a month shy of his 35th birthday, was once again being hailed as the saviour of West Indies cricket. Maybe it was fate. How else can you explain the freaky circumstances in which he regained the world record Test score? It was ten years to the week since he first achieved the feat, at the same ground and against the same opposition.

Much had changed in West Indian cricket since Lara made 375 in 1994. They entered that series a domineering presence under the guidance of Richie Richardson, however just a year down the line they began a steady decline towards the lower reaches of the cricketing hierarchy, which was now dominated by the Australians.

Revisiting a young Lara back in 1994 and it was already abundantly clear that here was a batsman destine for great things. Already four years into his international career, he was certainly no stranger to big scores. His maiden Test hundred, in early 1993, was a monumental 277 against a strong Australian attack in Sydney and his appetite for batting long and scoring heavily was already evident among those in the game.

This was eminently underlined during his epic 538-ball knock in Antigua, an innings that was compiled against a solid English attack including; Angus Fraser, Andrew Caddick, Chris Lewis and Phil Tufnell. It shot the talented Trinidadian to instant international recognition and fame, and just two months later he followed it up with another record marathon innings.

Batting for county side Warwickshire against Durham at Edgbaston, he belted an unbeaten 501. Twenty years on and Lara still remains the only player to pass 500 in the history of first-class cricket. An individual innings of half a thousand runs still defies belief, even in a day and age when batting usually tips the balance of fairness in the sport.

Lara’s highest Test score record of 375 would go on to last for 3,464 days before it was eventually broken by Australian Matthew Hayden. The powerful Queenslander contrived a brutal 380 against a weak Zimbabwean attack at Perth in October 2003.

The 2004 Brian Lara vintage was a markedly different proposition to the model of 1994. The classy southpaw had endured a decade of West Indian decline that was intertwined with board interferences, heavy expectation and several difficult stints as team captain and spokesman.

In early 2004, they came up against a quickly improving English outfit. Under the relatively new stewardship of Michael Vaughan, the English were at the start of their 18-month ascendency towards the top table of Test cricket.

After three heavy defeats in Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados, West Indies cricket was in complete chaos. Never had the Windies been whitewashed by the mother country, however this was now a realistic proposition heading into the fourth and final Test in Antigua. Furthermore it coincided with Lara being in the midst of a rare barren patch, with his six previous innings yielding just a combined 100 runs.

Stephen Harmison had the wood over Lara and the West Indians. His 7-12 had destroyed the home side for just 47 at Kingston, and he returned to contribute heavily to English success in Port-of-Spain, this time dismissing Lara for two single figure scores. While the West Indies captain improved his form at Bridgetown, hitting a pair of gutsy 30’s, he was still looking a far cry from the fluent strokemaker we had become to expect.

But that was all to change at the Antigua Recreation Ground. Lara would be no Easter bunny for Harmison and co on this occasion. Instead he would unfurl misery on a tired English attack and send the streets of the Antiguan capital into utter jubilation. In the process he became the first man to pass 400 in 127 years of Test cricket history.


Good Friday April 10th 2004 – Antigua Recreation Ground, St. Johns, Antigua

Brian Lara strolls out to bat at the fall of the first wicket as opener Darren Ganga is dismissed an hour into the fourth and final Test of the series with the score on 33.

He looks calm and determined, as if to say: “Today is gonna be my day!”

Greeting The Prince to the crease is his nemesis Harmison.

The wicket looks as flat as a pancake, typically with the Recreation Ground of late; England needs to strike while the ball is still hard and newish.

After an early optimistic LBW shout from Harmison, he has Lara nicking off fourth-ball. Or so he thought. So convinced is Harmison that the batsman has feathered through to the keeper, he doesn’t even turn around to check Darrell Hair’s finger go up before celebrating.

Hair, an umpire who would go on to surround himself with controversy in later years, is having none of it and duly rebuffs the bowler’s pleas.

Lara turns away and looks suspiciously back at a despondent Harmison and England’s chances of a second dismissal have disappeared.

Typically with such passages of play, the very next ball is put away through backward point. Lara is away with his first boundary.

He begins toying with the English bowlers, regularly cutting them to the vacant third man boundary before and after a rain delay scuppers the start of the second session until just after 4pm.

A fierce cut shot is slashed through the covers as Lara begins to show more authority in moving through the 30’s

He canters to a half century just moments later with a crushing pull through midwicket from his 61st delivery. Simon Jones is the bowler taking the punishment on this occasion.

As the twilight closes in on the picturesque Caribbean venue, play is abandoned for the first day with a relieved Lara trudging off with 86 unbeaten runs to his name.


Saturday April 11th 2004

A healthy crowd gathers into the ground as Lara begins day two greeting Matthew Hoggard with a dreamy off drive down the ground. One ball in and Lara moves into the 90’s.

He moves along to 98, bisecting midwicket with a clip off Hoggard and a 25th Test hundred follows shortly with a couple into the offside against the same bowler. Lara raises the bat with a brief smile – but you can tell he’s not nearly satisfied with just a hundred.

One hundred runs in and already comparisons are being made amongst the commentators of Lara’s previous record on this ground; there is a resounding sense that something special is once again unfolding.

With Lara on 127, this notion is briefly forgotten as Hoggard fires in a direct hit from the deep. For a moment it looks as though his innings will be cut short. Lara doesn’t show the mannerisms of a worried man, but direct hits are often closer than they first appear to the batsman…

Turns out he was in by an inch, maybe two inches.

Another Hoggard throw, this time much more wayward, brings Lara a bonus five runs and the two-hundred-run partnership is soon brought up between himself and Ramnaresh Sarwan, its shortly followed by 150 for the skipper.

Like the first ball of the morning, Lara starts the afternoon session by dispatching Hoggard to the fence, this time through point.

His first six of the innings is a supremely timed straight hit down the ground off spinner Gareth Batty. It was vintage Lara, all majestic high back lift and whistle clean follow-through – it pushes him into the 190’s.

Just two balls later and Lara is leaping for joy as a clip into the legside takes him past two hundred for the seventh time. This one comes off just 260 deliveries.

With England now a bowler short after a stomach bug struck down Hoggard; they are forced into using the military medium bowling of Marcus Trescothick, alongside the even friendlier offerings of captain Vaughan’s offspin.

Flat-pitch, dead rubber and a bowler light – if ever there were at time to make hay as a batsman, it was now.

And Lara duly delivers by blazing his second maximum – a near on replica of his previous effort against Batty.

The procession continues as he begins to sweep everything the spinners have to offer into submission. At one stage he his strike rate is over 150.0 while playing such strokes.

Two hundred and fifty comes and goes, with Batty bearing the brunt of the carnage once again. This time Lara shimmies down the track before backing away to leg and driving inside out over the covers.

He takes 12 off an Andrew Flintoff over including consecutive boundaries, the first a pull in front of square and the second a textbook square drive. Three hundred approaches.

Just seven runs shy, Lara blasts a fierce one through the fingertips of Batty. To call it a chance would be to shameful. It was simply too fierce.

A quick single brings 299. The great Martin Crowe once made 299, so did Sir Donald Bradman. Crowe never made a triple hundred. Bradman made two.

Lara makes sure he joins The Don; a second triple century is secured. Another single brings the elation. It takes him just 404 balls.

He celebrates a third hundred with a third six to finish the day – Vaughan the unfortunate soul this time around. 313 not out.

Photo Credit: AFP
Photo Credit: AFP

Easter Sunday April 12th 2004

An electric buzz enriches the ARG on this fine Sunday morning. Anticipation is high and the excitement is one of a nervous kind.

The 330’s are an intriguing beast in cricket.

Hanif Mohammad, Walter Hammond, Mark Taylor, Graham Gooch, Chris Gayle and Bradman – are all names who have never gone on beyond the 330’s. Perhaps there is a curse.

As Lara reaches the 330’s on this occasion he is greeted with a bouncer brigade from Harmison armed with the third new cherry.

As he breaks through the curse of the 330’s, he now has his sights set on 350. This is achieved 494 balls and 681 minutes into his innings with a couple through the onside.

The atmosphere begins to anticipate further. The locals can touch the tumbling records. Sir Leonard Hutton’s 364 is next in his sights. The field now has an ODI feel to it, there are ones and twos aplenty.

He goes past Sobers again, and then toys with Vaughan’s mind and the field once more.

Now the nerves begin to set in. On any other given day, he could well have nicked Batty to the keeper, on this day he missed it by a whisker.

It must then have been simply nervous energy/tension when he launches Batty downtown for a fourth six – 380 not out. He equals Hayden’s record.

A sweep, a beautiful sweep down to the fine leg boundary and HE’S DONE IT. Brian Charles Lara has retained his world record highest Test score.

The ARG erupts. Lara is greeted on the field by the great Sir Vivian Richards and Antiguan Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer.

He fist bumps with partner Ridley Jacobs, but this isn’t over, he wants 400.

England’s bowlers are understandably spent by now. Harmison is forced out of the attack after repeatedly running on the pitch, while Hoggard is back at the team hotel trying to convince the doctors he’s still unwell.

It is quite fitting in a way when Lara finally brings up his 400th run with another well timed sweep off the unfortunate Batty.

Five hundred and eighty two balls later and Brian Lara is 400 not out.


What happened next?

  • Upon reaching 400, Lara duly declared the innings in a bid get the game moving along, but despite following on, England clung on for a draw to win the series 3-0.
  • Lara received criticism from some quarters, including Australian captain Ricky Ponting – who claimed he was selfish in batting too long instead of pursuing victory for his side.
  • Lara would go on to play international cricket for another three years before he retired from all formats after he captained the WI during a home World Cup in early 2007.
  • His record of the highest Test score is still intact, with Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene since coming the closest to breaking it with 374 against South Africa in 2006.