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Nathan Lyon vs Ravi Ashwin: Who is the world's best off-spinner?

ANALYST
Feature
2.33K   //    Timeless

Nathan Lyon has emerged as one of the top bowlers in world cricket
Nathan Lyon has emerged as one of the top bowlers in world cricket

(This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in the piece are author's own and does not reflect Sportskeeda's stand on the same.)

A casual look at the basic stats of the two bowlers would suggest that it is a no contest. Ravichandran Ashwin is a way better bowler than Nathan Lyon on paper. While the Indian offie has an astonishing record of 342 wickets from 65 Tests and the distinction of being fastest to the 300-wicket mark in Test cricket, Lyon has 3 less wickets in 19 more matches. The Australian off-spinner takes just over 63 balls to take a wicket while Ashwin requires a shade below 54. The average of 25.43 that he has, also compares favourably to Lyon’s 32.10.

So, what would be your reaction to the claim that Lyon is a better off-spinner than Ashwin? Is it even possible to conceive that it is Lyon and not the Indian tweaker who deserves to be considered the best offie in the world?

Well, as someone once said, there are lies, damn lies and then, there are stats. While statistics are not as misleading as this famous saying suggests, they should never be taken at their face value. To compare Ashwin and Lyon, we need to take into consideration the various other factors that affect their stats and not get carried away by simple numbers.

When we do take a closer look, it becomes evident that not only does Lyon have a good claim to being as good as Ashwin, he may even be considered better. You don’t believe this? Well, let’s present the reasons why Lyon should be regarded as a superior off-spinner than Ashwin.


Australian Conditions

Ashwin has struggled in making an impact on Australian pitches
Ashwin has struggled in making an impact on Australian pitches

No country is as difficult for offies to operate in as Australia. Look at the history of Australian cricket as well as cricket in Australia and you would clearly see that off-spinners have always had a torrid time there, except for the greatest ones.

Only the likes of Prasanna, Gibbs, Tayfield were able to tour Australia and make an impact while lesser off-spinners struggled. Even in modern times, bowlers such as Muralitharan and Harbhajan couldn’t make a mark. Saqlain Mushtaq and Graeme Swann also rarely had great figures down under.

For the same reasons, the pantheon of great Aussie spinners is dominated by leg-spinners. From Bill o'Reilly to Shane Warne, the country has produced great wrist spinners. Among off-spinners, Ashley Mallet, Bruce Yardley and Tim May became prominent and they too never reached the heights of success that leggies did.

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The fact that Lyon has had such a great career while playing most of his cricket in these conditions should lead him to be considered as a great bowler. Ashwin, on the other hand, averages 48.07 compared to Lyon’s 33.31 in Australia and in terms of strike-rate, the Oz bowler leads with 66.9 compared to the Indian’s 94.7. These stats show that Lyon has successfully plied his trade in the most difficult conditions and come out trumps.

Since Ashwin has now played 7 Tests in Australia, it’s hard to make the case that he is still getting used to the conditions. Lyon clearly emerges the better bowler when seen in this light.

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