As he prepares to return to Test cricket after suffering an Ashes-ending calf injury earlier this year, Australia’s star spinner Nathan Lyon is particularly enthused about the prospect of bowling against “superstar” Babar Azam.
Lyon has played three Sheffield Shield matches in the last month following a lengthy recovery from the first serious injury of his Test career, and he will return in match number 101 against Pakistan as an important element of Australia’s bowling assault.
Lyon has taken 22 wickets in three matches at Optus Stadium in Perth, the location for the first Test of the season, but he expects a stiff battle from former Pakistan captain Babar Azam, whom he regards highly.
Babar, who resigned as Pakistan captain last month, blasted a brilliant 196 in Karachi last year against Australia to save the match before Lyon pulled him at a vital stage of the decider in Lahore. He was also one of the few bright spots from Pakistan’s most recent trip to Australia in 2019-2020, where he scored 97 and 101.
“Babar, firstly, has been a pleasure to play against but he’s also been a massive challenge. He’s one of the best batters in the world in my eyes, especially against spin. He’s a class player. But think he’s a class player against all types of bowling,” Lyon told ESPNcricinfo.
“They’ve got some superstars in the side, and if I’m talking superstars he’s the No. 1 in the Pakistan side in my eyes. He played reasonably well out here last time so it’s going to be a big challenge for us for sure,” he added.
Lyon will enter the home summer with 496 Test wickets, and considering his record in Perth, he has a good chance of being the eighth bowler, and third Australian, to achieve 500 during the match.
“The hunger level for playing Test matches is probably higher than ever, if I’m being honest. I’m proper excited about it. Love playing in Perth at Optus Stadium. It’s going to be a challenge against Pakistan, so it’s going to be an exciting battle,” the Australia spinner said.
The right arm Offbreak spinner collected four wickets in three Shield appearances for New South Wales and did not have a heavy workload in the last match at the SCG, which was dominated by fast bowlers. He has, however, been putting in lots of net time, including a three-hour period with mentor John Davison, and is quite comfortable with his build-up.
“My rehab has been exceptional. I’ve had a lot of good people in my corner helping me out, making sure I was ticking every box and making sure I was doing everything required. If I wasn’t coming off cricket I’d been questioning it, but three Shield games, a one-day game a grade game, and a lot of training, [leaves me] feeling really happy with way things are,” he said.
The three-match Test series against Pakistan begins on December 14 in Perth, with matches in Melbourne and Sydney following before a two-match series against the West Indies at home in January.