“If you can cut off the head of the snake, the rest of the body tends to fall”

Dale Steyn said these words back in October. This was just after South Africa had landed in Australia. Steyn aimed these words at Australia’s captain Steven Smith.

It is a bit of delicious irony that Australia’s Nathan Lyon said almost the same thing after taking a career-best 8/50 which shot India out for only 189 on the first day of the second Test in Bengaluru.

“He is the head of the snake, to put it in Dale Steyn’s terms, and if you can take that, the body will fall away. It was pretty pleasing to take Virat’s wicket,” said the 29-year-old Australian spinner, flushed from his success at the end-of-the-day press conference.

‘I was the lucky one today’

And as far as India were concerned, they fell for the trap, hook, line and sinker. Or to continue the metaphor further, the rest of the body merely disintegrated, save for the efforts of KL Rahul who top-scored with a magnificent 90.

But what sorcery did Lyon unleash? Not a lot, really. According to him: “I was the lucky one today.”

It was pure modesty, because decidedly Lyon wasn’t just simply lucky. He was smart. He read the pitch perfectly in the morning. He decided to focus on the overspin and kept reeling away at one particular point. He kept it simple and old-fashioned. And he prospered.

“I don’t know if they’re going to spin or go straight, so if I don’t know ,neither does the batter really,” said Lyon, providing a frank glimpse into his thinking. “I’m about doing the basics really well and just landing on the same spot, that’s a big one for me, if I keep doing that I’m going to be able to create chances.”

“That’s what you’ve got to do over here, on the subcontinent, is be patient and hit the same spot over and over and hopefully things will start to happen,” he continued.

Nathan Lyon lifts up the ball after his 8/50 in India's first innings. Image credit: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

While it sounds simple, it really is not. Over this entire home season, spinners as varied as New Zealand’s Mitchell Santner to England’s Adil Rashid to Bangladesh’s Mehedi Hasan Miraz have come in with pretty much the same strategy. They’ve soon realised that while aiming to remain consistent is a great strategy, it’s extremely difficult to pull it off ball-after-ball in hot conditions with Indian batsmen looking to put you off length.

There was nothing extraordinary about the way Lyon got his wickets. Cheteshwar Pujara was caught at bat-pad, Virat Kohli was puzzled by the bounce of an earlier ball and was snapped into making a mistake off the next. Ajinkya Rahane and Karun Nair (to O’Keefe) committed the cardinal sin of walking down the pitch too early and showing their cards, only to be stumped. And from there on, Lyon just had to put the ball on a good length to account for Ravichandran Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha and Ravindra Jadeja.

‘Proved to myself that I can compete at this level’

It’s almost metronomic and it’s reminiscent of Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath who has taken a bagful of international wickets using the same methods. Lyon was quick to credit the Sri Lankan left-arm spinner for his advice.

“If you look at Rangana Herath, one of the best spinners in the world, what does he do well? He hits the same spot over and over,” said Lyon. “He said to me after the [Sri Lanka] series I don’t know if they’re going to spin either. So if I’m working off the same plan Rangana’s working off, he’s going alright, and hopefully we’ll be able to keep doing it as an Australian team.”

And while he passed off the delivery that got Kohli as “nothing special”, that does not discount the amount of hard work the 29-year-old has put into his bowling. In the interview he gave to after the day’s play, he mentioned about how he bowled almost 1200 deliveres in Dubai where the team had gone to prepare for this tour. And he didn’t mince words at the presser.

“After the tour of Sri Lanka I went home and reflected on that personally and worked very, very hard with John Davison at home,” revealed Lyon. “And in the lead-up to the BBL games I was going down to games two hours before and bowling in the nets with John Davison and Darren Berry on separate occasions.”

For a bowler who often finds his place in the squad under much scrutiny at the slightest pretext, this was the performance from Lyon, a masterclass which should shut the critics up who keep on harping about his deficiencies.

“I don’t need to prove [anything] to anyone. I’ve proved to myself I can compete at this level and I want to keep doing it for Australia. This is where my passion lies and I just want to keep doing what I can for Australia.”