Purveying good, positive cricket

David Warner and Nathan Lyon were the star performers as Australia subdued India in Adelaide. Warner and Lyon are, indeed, at the forefront of a new generation of Australian cricketers, writes S. Dinakar.

The Australians pride themselves on their mental strength. That ability to buck the odds, never lose belief. By Phillip Hughes’ tragic death, the Australians were shattered emotionally. But then, they picked themselves up with typical resolve for the first Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy series against India.

And the side continued to find men for the occasion — the Match Winners… David Warner and Nathan Lyon this time.

Warner’s century-in-each-innings act in Adelaide — the second time he has achieved the feat in a Test this year — confirmed his stature as an attacking batsman who has fine-tuned his game to suit all versions.

The 28-year-old New South Welshman is reading the situations much better now. While he retains his attacking instincts, Warner has tightened his defence. His second innings hundred in Adelaide showed he possesses patience as well.

As it is, Warner is a difficult batsman to bowl at since he has more than one scoring option for every delivery. This is why it can be tough for captains to set a field for him.

The left-hander picks the length early and is ready with his response. And he can put away deliveries with incredible bat-speed. As an opener, he rarely allows the new ball bowlers to settle down and he is among the ferocious pullers in the game.

And then, his improving footwork has made him an even harder proposition for the bowlers. These are days when Warner, at least in Test match cricket, moves his feet capably for strokes on either side of the wicket.

Against spin, Warner moved back to essay the cut, sashayed down for the drives and the lofted hits, and swept to disrupt the line.

It’s no surprise that Warner has crossed 1000 Test runs for the season. While there is a sense of adventure in his strokeplay, the left-hander’s success has been fuelled by the determination to prove himself in Test cricket.

The diminutive Warner’s explosive strokeplay also dents the opposition psychologically. The confidence levels of the bowlers go down, and things become easier for Warner’s partner as well.

His story thus far has been astonishing. In a departure from usual practice, the Australian selectors fielded Warner in a Twenty20 international against South Africa, in January, 2009, before he had made his first class debut.

It was evident Warner was precociously talented. He smashed boundaries with ridiculous ease and effortlessly dumped the ball into the stands.

While he made a name for himself in Twenty20 and ODI cricket, the breakthrough innings for Warner in Tests arrived in Hobart against New Zealand in 2011.

The match was played on a seaming track and the New Zealand pacemen were a handful in the second innings.

Australia lost a humdinger by seven runs, but Warner’s positive but responsible unbeaten 123 stood out for its technical attributes as well. Warner played the ball late, covered for the swing, and was judicious with his strokes. He had succeeded where many other bigger names failed.

The New South Welshman plays his cricket hard and aggressively and can be vulnerable to temperamental outbursts. He conceded after confrontations with the Indian players on Day Four of the first Test, “Everyone knows the way I play my cricket. Sometimes, I cross the line.”

Warner has 2953 runs in 33 Tests at 50.05 with 11 centuries. Who would have thought he would return these numbers in cricket’s longest version when he began his career as a specialist in the abbreviated form of the game!

Lyon’s rise from a curator at the Adelaide Oval to a game-changer for the side at the same venue is a spirit lifting tale.

The first thing you notice in Lyon is that he delivers from a clean, classical action. There is no bending and straightening of the arm or the ‘doosra’.

He is an off-spinner who believes in the old fashioned virtues of giving the ball a rip, bowling the right line and spinning the ball into the right-hander from outside the off-stump.

It is also to be noted that only bowlers who can impart spin and turn the ball will have the belief to land it at least half a yard outside the off stump.

With 127 scalps in 27 Tests at 34.66, he is a bowler who is constantly improving. Virat Kohli, who played him in the 2013 series in India, acknowledged Lyon was harder to counter now.

The off-spinner, surely, is getting into good positions with his action and is using the crease capably.

Crucially, Lyon held his nerve in the decisive post-tea session in Adelaide when he continued to flight and taunt the Indian batsmen with close-catchers in place. Credit is also due to stand-in captain Brad Haddin for keeping men near the bat when Australia could have so easily lost.

There was a rough and some footmarks for Lyon to exploit — left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Johnson and the Indian pacemen bowling round the wicket had created them — and the off-spinner bowled with admirable control, consistently hitting the spots.

Even when the Indians were going for runs, he never gave up flighting the ball.

Wriddhiman Saha jumped out to smash him for a six in that tumultuous final session. Lyon continued to flight and Saha, once again, skipped down, only to see his stumps disturbed.

In the first innings he gave the ball air but held it back a tad to extract a return catch from Rohit Sharma.

Lyon was, eventually, rewarded for some brave bowling. Predictably, he was his team’s toast. It is never easy being the lone spinner in a pace-dominated attack. In the event, Lyon has been admirable in the manner he has delivered for Australia so far.

Warner and Lyon are, indeed, at the forefront of a new generation of Australian cricketers.