Right arm around the wicket. A little rough. A dry pitch. And three deliveries. That was all it took for Nathan Lyon to look more dangerous than Ashton Agar. It also resulted in Alastair Cook being very nearly taken at slip. And most importantly of all, it showed that Lyon could effortlessly move Sky’s rev counter into the red. For those of you who’ve never seen it that reveals he gives it a rip.
After the next 11.3 overs, Lyon was still wicketless, but wicketless for 23 runs. England had barely scored off him. But Lyon hadn’t yet bowled to Kevin Pietersen. Lyon, not being a left armer, is not the sort of spinner that is supposed to trip up Pietersen. Really, any spinner can trip him up but more often they end up as puddles of damp mass at the bowling crease.
There is no way Lyon wouldn’t have known what was coming. He probably owns a TV. Pietersen was giving signs of his mood as well. He’d danced down the wicket to Shane Watson – to Lyon he might want to camp mid-pitch. He also had that Pietersen stride of completely arrogant ownership of every blade of grass beneath him.
The first ball Lyon delivered showed how unworried he was to face him. It was outside off stump, and Pietersen just yawned it to mid-on for a single.
The next over Lyon started around the wicket. If it had any impact on Pietersen, it was that it inspired him to make a wild west charge of dominance followed by a mishit of petulance. It went close enough to mid-on for the bowler to share knowing looks with people, but that was all.
By the third, Pietersen was ready to dine on Lyon. When Pietersen charges down the wicket he wants to score; when he stands in the crease and swings he scores. It wasn’t timed, or in any way poetic, but it did fly away to the rope. But Lyon wasn’t ready to be taken down just yet, and the next ball stopped Pietersen in his tracks. Later on he refused to be fed a decent ball and ran at Lyon, getting to it on the full, before only hitting it to midwicket for no run. Then he took a pause.
It was for a bit of excess dirt somewhere in the middle of the pitch that no offspinner would ever hit. But it wasn’t for the dirt. Pietersen wanted Lyon to wait, because Pietersen wanted Lyon to wait. He couldn’t have made it more clear he was in charge of the situation if he had hired a skywriter to write “KP” above the ground.
The next over began with an optimistic lbw shout by Lyon. Pietersen looked annoyed by the question. His response was to come down the wicket and crunch a six over long-on. The next ball went over long-off, an even better shot. Lyon was still holding on though, his next ball floated up again. Pietersen was confused by this, expecting the quick, short reply and he almost dragged it back on to his stumps as every limb he has did something different.
It wasn’t a real victory, maybe not even a moral one, not even morale saving. But when you’ve been hit for two straight sixes, even a four seems like a moment of respite. Lyon survived the over.
Next over Pietersen played Lyon’s first ball to mid-on so easily that it seemed like he could have down it blindfolded after been spun around four times. It brought Ian Bell on strike, who helped himself to a beautiful six. Clarke had seen enough, it was Lyon’s last over of that spell.
Pietersen was 55 when Lyon was taken off. He would make 113. And would face another ten balls from Lyon in that time.
During the 65-80 over mark is when your spinner most pays his way by resting your seamers for the new ball. Lyon bowled one over.
The treatment of Lyon wasn’t brutal in a Xavier Doherty kind of way. But that was only because he wasn’t kept there for Pietersen to feast on. Pietersen would have kept whacking Lyon as long as Lyon was in front of him.
Lyon is clearly the better spinner than Agar right now. But Clarke was allowed to hide him today. As Pietersen has learned is his dealings with the media, no one can hide forever. Today it was just 19 balls of Pietersen being Pietersen that send Lyon away from the crease. At some stage in this series, if Lyon is to be Australia’s spinner, he won’t be able to hide behind a few good revs and his seamers.