Nathan Lyon has Australia on the brink of victory against India, outwitting Virat Kohli along the way
If Sachin Tendulkar labels you “very special”, it’s fair to say you’re doing something OK.
If you can set Virat Kohli up over the course of several overs, moving him inch by inch across the crease while he plays the shots you want him to play and eventually force him into nicking off, you’re doing even better than that.
This has been Nathan Lyon’s last 24 hours in microcosm — a compliment from God, the scalp of the King.
Despite Kohli’s magnificent first innings, headline-making dismissal and running verbal joust with his opposite skipper, this is now Lyon’s Test — five wickets in the first innings and THE wicket of the second ensure his impact on the result of this match will be the most telling.
But beyond that now is the sense that Australia is in possession of rare bowling talent.
His nickname — the GOAT — was initially created in ironic jest, and spoke more of a lack of truly great off-spinners in Australia’s Test history. It doesn’t feel like so much of a joke anymore.
Virat Kohli won the battle in the first innings, but Nathan Lyon won the war. (AAP: Dave Hunt)
If his 326 Test wickets haven’t yet convinced you, how about a look back at the bowling sequence that led to the dismissal of Kohli. The seven balls Lyon bowled to the Indian captain before his dismissal conditioned him for one thing, then the decisive rock delivered something completely and crucially different.
Lyon bowled the 15th over of the innings to Kohli exclusively. The first pitched straight, spun into Kohli and drew a leading edge due to a little bit of extra bounce.
The second was on the same line and spun in a similar fashion, and was turned into the short leg fielder for no run. Ditto the third.
Lyon produced effectively the same delivery for each of the remaining three balls. Kohli turned one to mid on, one to fine leg, another to short leg. All for no run.
From the first ball of the 17th over, Lyon once again bowled straight and turning, and this time Kohli worked a single. Same ball, same shot, just slightly further into a gap. The rest of the plan would have to wait.
Not for long though. By now, Kohli was instinctively playing at Lyon’s bowling. He was anticipating more of the same — a straight ball that would spin into him, and which could be worked to the on-side for runs.
So Lyon bowled it wide of off stump with no turn whatsoever. Kohli lunged and played for non-existent turn, his eagerness to feel bat on ball turning fatal when a healthy edge carried to Usman Khawaja at slip.
The Australian celebrations were immense. Fuelled by self-satisfaction, Lyon took off on a victory lap. His captain Tim Paine, fuelled by something else altogether, clenched his fists tightly and bellowed loudly, taking a brief glance back at his new nemesis but resisting the urge to offer directions to the dressing rooms.
Paine saved his instant-classic barb for Murali Vijay a few overs later, proving Australian captains have come some way since broken effing arms — “I know he’s your captain, but you can’t seriously like him as a bloke”.
Lyon removed Ajinkya Rahane soon after, in an extended period of play that rendered everything that came before or after it on day four — the first-session grind, the middle-session eruption, the pre-tea Australian breakthroughs — inconsequential.
Kohli was gone, and so too was India.
Play will resume this morning with a sense of the inevitable around it. Rishabh Pant being in charge of a tough, rugged run chase feels like giving a toddler a Ming vase in the middle of a tantrum, and the less said about the batting prowess of the bottom four the better.
But there are still five wickets to take, and in a Test that has confounded expectations every step of the way, who can be certain there isn’t one final dramatic twist around the corner?
What we do know for sure is that Lyon will have that ball back in his hand early today, eyeing the three wickets he needs to complete a personal 10-for as well as the five to level this series.
He’s sure to have an impact on the final day of this Test, just as he has on pretty much every day of the series so far. The last man standing in Adelaide could be the one who leads his victorious team off the field in Perth.
Because, as Sachin said, this guy is very special.