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Why Lyon is leaving Warne-like vacuum

Stuart MacGill, the man who had lived in Warne’s shadow for the best part of a decade, was rising 36 himself but there was a sense of optimism that he could hold the fort as Australia’s primary spinner for a couple of years at least until one of the next generation was ready to take over. MacGill had rarely let Australia down when called upon and was about to become the sixth-fastest man to 200 Test wickets in terms of matches played.But 2007 was a rare year for Australia, who went without Test commitments between the end of the 06-07 Ashes and visit of Sri Lanka for two Tests in November.In between times, MacGill’s body was failing him. He needed pre-season knee surgery, got smacked around by the tourists, went in for more knee surgery, headed to the West Indies that May, and struggled so badly that he pulled the pin mid-tour.The era of post-Warne MacGill didn’t even last 18 months and yielded just 10 wickets across four Tests.Suddenly Australia was grasping for imperfect solutions. Brad Hogg had briefly been tried when MacGill went under the knife but Australia didn’t trust him enough to play him at the pace-friendly Perth, where the Aussies picked four quicks without a frontline spinner, a move Australia hadn’t made in 16 years.One streak over, another ended, Australia losing to India to end a 16-match winning streak.The parallels with how the Aussies have stumbled without Nathan Lyon are striking.Not since Lyon’s first home summer had Australia opted against playing a specialist spinner. And when his series ended distressingly at Lord’s, the Aussie camp preached that waiting in the wings was a capable replacement in Todd Murphy.Yet Murphy was barely bowled in the third Test at Headingley and was discarded for the fourth Test. Australia has stressed that it was a conditions-based decision, with coach Andrew McDonald noting post-match that spin did not have a major say in the game. But without a serious spinner, everyone had to do that bit more work, and Australia ended up conceding almost 600.Mitch Marsh was sore enough not to bowl on day three, and his availability for the fifth and final Test was under a cloud. Suddenly the question was being asked as to whether he could play just as a batter. But then would Australia have enough bowling? These are the types of issues that Lyon helped them dodge.Lyon had taken more wickets than anyone in the World Test Championship cycle just gone. Australia had won that title and went 2-0 up in the Ashes before Lyon went out of the side.In the two Tests since, the Aussies have lost one and been thoroughly outplayed in the other, spared largely by Manchester’s weather.Just as occurred 15 years ago, the Aussies have started doing things they never would have dreamt about when their mainstay spinner was available, and their game has begun to look much shakier.Though Lyon’s calf injury was bad enough to rule out any prospect of a return in this compact Ashes series, there is no reason why he should not be back by the time Australia’s next Test starts against Pakistan in Perth come December.However by that point, Lyon will be 36, with more than 31,000 Test deliveries on his odometer. He had been unusually durable, becoming the first specialist bowler to play 100 consecutive Tests, but the back half of the 30s tends to be an age where the body is no longer as accommodating.Australian selectors rate Murphy highly; they would not have brought an understudy along at all if they didn’t, but without the safety blanket of Lyon everything in the Aussie XI seems that bit less settled.After MacGill retired, Australia churned through spinners like it was browsing Tinder. Beau Casson, Cameron White, Jason Krejza, Bryce McGain, Nathan Hauritz, Xavier Doherty, and Michael Beer were all chewed up and spat out, and that’s without even mentioning the Tests where Australia preferred to rely on the part-time offerings of Marcus North and Steve Smith. While the revolving door was not the only reason, it also marked a period in which Australia fell well back into the pack in Test cricket.Then came Lyon, who while of course never the spinner nonpareil of Warne, may have left a vacuum just as significant.

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