“In my head I thought: ‘oh no, that will be short and wide’, but luckily that was not the case.”
“All I was trying to do was throw my best ball,” Lyon recalled, speaking to ESPNcricinfo as he prepared to return to Galle for the upcoming two-game series in Australia. “I honestly thought it would be smashed into my memory for four, but luckily Kumar picked one. If you can knock off the left-hander, that’s a nice feeling. That’s one of our layoffs.”
Lyon’s rapid rise to the Test side, with just a handful of games under his belt, came at a time when Australia was still looking to fill the void left by Shane Warne. They had gone through a variety of options over the next four years and none really stuck.
“I was pretty nervous just being around Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke and these guys,” Lyon said. “Michael Clarke and Greg Chappell were the ones who informed me” [I was playing]† I was pretty pumped… to be told I would be the only spinner was a bit of a shock, but it was pretty damn exciting to be honest.
“I had always dreamed of having that moment, always dreaming of being at the top of my goal in a test match and seeing what I could potentially do.”
Hours after that first scalp, Lyon walked away with a five-wicket draw after running through Sri Lanka’s lower order. The surprising character of his debut is emphasized by his memory of that experience.
“Before that, I’d never really taken many five-for-ones in my life, so I didn’t really know what to expect,” he said. “I probably didn’t understand the magnitude of the events that had just happened.”
I was pretty nervous just being around Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke and these guys
“I only spoke to family recently about where it started,” he said. “So it’s pretty remarkable when you look back at 2011 and see where we are at this stage, but obviously it was a dream come true to play just one test so I’ve been pretty lucky.”
“It’s a good question and to be honest, I hate to answer it,” he said. “Because once you feel comfortable, things are taken away from you.”
“There has been a lot of talk in the media in recent years when we played some very docile wickets and we were unable to take the win,” Lyon said of taking the final day win in Lahore. “That was on my mind heading into the final test, but I was quite proud of the way the guys did.”
Now he is back on the subcontinent with Australia in hopes of continuing their pursuit of a place in the World Test Championship final. This is Lyon’s second return to Sri Lanka after his debut streak was part of the 2016 tour where they lost the Tests 3-0. His 16 wickets at 31.93 pale in comparison to Rangana Herath’s 28 at 12.75 and he knows the focus will likely be on him.
“There’s a level of excitement when you go to a place like Sri Lanka, also with my personal history there,” he said. “There are always nerves. If you talk to Mitchell Starc he will say that I debuted about 95 times out of 108 tests. That’s not nerves of the fear of failure, it’s more of really caring about the team and good want to perform for your friends.”
While conditions are likely to be more extreme than those that Australia overcame in Pakistan, Lyon did not believe an entirely new approach would be needed. “Don’t think it changes too much. You’ll get in trouble if you change and try to force the game,” he said. “When you talk about the subcontinent, it’s about a good team mentality and that’s what you have to perform there, I think. You can’t do that alone.”
“It will be great to have Dan on board. I want to sit down and work out some plans and talk to him about cricket in general, but bowling specifically.”
“It’s really good to see them finally get to play some A-tours outdoors. It’ll only make them better,” he said. “They may have some difficult days, but I promise you one thing: there are many more difficult days than good days in Test Cricket.”
From that heady start in Galle, Lyon has been through a lot of both. But what would his reaction have been if someone had told him 11 years ago that this is what his career would look like?
“You are an idiot. I would have found it extremely hard to believe. It’s quite remarkable to have been around for so long and to have played a part in Australian cricket. It was a lot of fun and something I’m very proud of am, but it’s never given anyone the right to have that opportunity. In my view, the hard work still needs to be done. I still want to improve.”
Andrew McGlashan is deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
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