Why Lyon could be the last Australian to 500 Test wickets
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Nathan Lyon became the third Australian man to 500 Test wickets on Sunday. He could well will be the last.
A humble champion, Lyon would find it uncomfortable if great mates Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood did not join him in the exclusive group, but if age does not stop them the market forces of the global cricket economy likely will.
Nathan Lyon celebrates his 500th Test wicket on Sunday.Credit: Getty
It took 134 years for Courtney Walsh to become the first player to reach the milestone, but five years later in 2006 he had Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, Glenn McGrath and Anil Kumble for company.
Back then, Twenty20 was a term better associated with optometry than cricket. In the past 17 years, only England pair James Anderson and Stuart Broad have been inducted in the 500-club – until now.
What Lyon, Anderson and Broad all have in common, apart from plenty of Ashes yarns for the lucrative after-dinner speaking circuit, is their focus on the red ball over the white.
From nations where Test cricket is cherished, the trio had their minds shaped at a time when international cricket was king. But future generations will hone their skills knowing the considerable riches on offer in global T20 leagues.
“There’s some pretty incredible names around world cricket have taken over 500 wickets,” Lyon told Channel Seven on Sunday.
“The Australians for me to edge up closer to … obviously for me to edge up closer to obviously Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. In my eyes Shane Warne is the GOAT (greatest of all time) of cricket around the world. To be alongside them is nice. It’s pretty special to be honest.”
Sadly for lovers of Test cricket, it will not be in the financial interests of future players to play long enough to achieve the sort of landmarks Lyon has reached.
And if they did, the economics of the world game would mean they’d have fewer matches against cricket’s less powerful nations to swell their tallies.
If the T10 tournament reportedly being considered by the Board of Control for Cricket in India to launch next year comes to fruition, it will be more competition to the game’s traditional format.
Despite being eagerly sought by T20 franchises, and enjoying handsome paydays in the IPL, Australia’s fabled pace trio of Cummins, Starc and Hazlewood have prioritised country over franchise.
Crystal-ball gazing is fraught, but back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest all three face great challenges to reach the 500 mark Lyon achieved on Sunday.
Cummins, the youngest of the three at 30, is not even halfway to the milestone. At his current rate of 4.3 wickets per Test, he would need close to another 60 games to get there.
With 34 Tests scheduled in world cricket’s future tours program until April 2027, Cummins would have to play until at least 2030, when he turns 37. By then, the statesman of Australian cricket and climate activist might be more concerned with pre-selection than Test selection.
The increased susceptibility fast bowlers have to injury as they age and the fading powers that come with Father Time are also against him.
Hazlewood, two years older than Cummins and with an inferior strike rate, has even less chance of joining Lyon. Even Starc, the closest to 500 with 338, would have to play until he was at least 37.
The wonders of modern sports science mean players are better managed than ever before. Anderson has shown that, with careful management, fast bowlers can play into their 40s, but he bowls at a slower pace to the Australian battalion, and has not attracted the eye of IPL franchises.
Globally, Ravichandran Ashwin should raise the ball for his quintuple century in the coming months, but beyond him, perhaps only Kagiso Rabada, 28, with 280 wickets from 60 Tests, of current players will threaten 500, though the future of Test cricket in South Africa is clouded.
Without a major shift in the direction of the game, records like Lyon’s won’t get to be broken.
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