John Davison, also known as the Spin Whisperer, praises the strength and dexterity of his hands, specifically mentioning their suitability for handling a ball. His satisfaction is evident in his Queensland accent.
“It’s a reflection of his efforts and dedication over the years. He takes care not to strain his back or knee too much, which allows him to play for as long as he wants,” he says with a laugh. This statement will strike fear in batters all around the world and make the top bowlers of the game nervously glance behind them. Nathan Lyon has just reached his 500th (and 501st) Test wicket and shows no signs of slowing down.
In the upcoming days and weeks, there will be a thorough examination of Lyon’s history and position in the game. His recent pivotal dismissal of Pakistan’s Faheem Ashraf in Perth, where he was pinned lbw in a typical Lyon fashion, will undoubtedly spark discussions about his roots and what lies ahead for him.
This is an interesting tale. Lyon grew up in the small town of Young in the South Western Slopes of Australia and was a quiet country boy. He used to play cricket with his brother, Brendan, in their backyard. However, he has now progressed to playing against much larger adults in club matches. As a teenager, he moved to Canberra to play representative cricket, then eventually ended up in Adelaide. He also worked as a groundskeeper at Adelaide Oval while playing Grade cricket for Prospect.
After a few standout games during the initial stages of the Big Bash tournament, as well as a few matches in the Sheffield Shield, he was suddenly called up to join the Australian Test team in 2011. In his debut, he managed to take a wicket with his first ball, dismissing Kumar Sangakkara. Over the course of twelve years and 500 Test wickets, he has climbed to the third spot on his country’s all-time wicket list, with only Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath ahead of him.
Davison expresses concern that the player is improving and competing in a challenging location (Australia) for finger spinners.
While completing a spin training program for Cricket Australia, Davison encountered Lyon. As part of his job to search for promising players in different states, Davison met an 18-year-old who was thin and bowled in a lackluster manner. From that point on, they have collaborated intermittently. In 2013-14, Davison was chosen as the spin coach for the Australian men’s team and was tasked with mentoring Lyon.
Lyon praised Davison as the top spin coach globally, stating that he is the only person he truly relies on. They have a great relationship and Davison is well-versed in Lyon’s technique, providing honest feedback when necessary.
Currently, the relationship between Lyon and Davison is less formal but still beneficial. Three weeks ago, with 499 Test wickets under his belt, Lyon requested a training session leading up to the Perth Test against Pakistan. Davison explains, “He usually comes to Brisbane, but this time I traveled to Sydney.” Due to a calf injury during the Ashes, Lyon had not been bowling as frequently, so they focused on improving his wrist position and getting on top of the ball during the session.
“He used to do it more frequently, but now that he’s at the top of his game, we still have these check-ins. I’m not sure if he does it for my benefit or his own, but either way, it’s always a positive and comforting experience after all these years.”
Davison has been a supportive presence during Lyon’s difficult times, including moments of self-doubt and pressure. These struggles were particularly evident as Lyon tried to establish himself as Australia’s top Test spinner, especially after the retirement of Warne. During this time, criticism was harsh due to perceived shortcomings in his performance in second innings.
It was expected by Davison that Lyon would be able to withstand the challenges and criticism, and perform consistently at a high level. According to Davison, Lyon has a strong drive to constantly improve, as evidenced by his desire to play for Lancashire in county cricket next year and enhance his skills in limited overs cricket. Davison is confident that Lyon will continue to progress and excel.
Davison is well-known for his performance as a player, particularly for his impressive 67-ball century for Canada against West Indies in 2003. This was the fastest World Cup century at the time. He was also a skilled off-spinner and frequently bowled at the start of one-day internationals. In 2004, he made headlines by taking 17 wickets in Canada’s first first-class match in over 50 years. This was considered the best first-class bowling record since Jim Laker’s 19-wicket haul against Australia in 1956.
Davison, now 53, is in demand as a private spin coach; he has recently been working with the Aussie leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson and is passionate about unearthing new talent in Queensland and beyond. He sports an impressively grey-flecked beard in the mould of WG Grace or Charles Darwin but it is revolutions rather than evolution that get his whiskers twitching
“I have spent more than 15 years traveling across the country testing spin bowlers,” he explains. “There is a technology developed by the company Trackman that is specifically designed to measure the amount of spin on a cricket ball. When a finger spinner is able to achieve 2,000 RPM (revolutions per minute) on the ball, I become enthused. If it reaches 2,200 RPM or higher, it becomes a whole new ballgame.”
The question that arises is, how well does Lyon perform? According to reports, he is at the top of his game, consistently operating at a speed of 2,200 to 2,400 RPM. None of the finger spinners I have encountered have been able to match his skill.
Lyon trails McGrath’s all-time record by 62 Test wickets. The next highest spinner, Anil Kumble, is 118 wickets ahead. Looking at his career stats and injury history, along with his determination to improve, it seems likely that Lyon could surpass both records with a few more years of hard work. Davison also agrees, stating that Lyon is currently reaping the benefits of his efforts. As he is surrounded by a strong pace attack and has plenty of experience, he is like a well-oiled machine with many years of cricket still ahead of him. If he can stay healthy, the next few years could potentially be his most successful yet.
The following is taken from The Spin, a weekly cricket email from The Guardian. To receive updates, please visit the page and follow the provided instructions.