The Coronavirus pandemic has caused players from all around the planet to move from physical to virtual playgrounds. Instagram Live and Twitter have become the mainstays for cricket fans and cricketers who are locked up due to the pandemic. In one such occasion, former Australian spinner Brad Hogg answered questions from fans on Twitter. In one of these questions, Hogg picked up the best spinner in Tests as Nathan Lyon over Ravichandran Ashwin which was liable to criticism. In the last few years, both off-spinners have emerged as leading spin bowlers of the modern era.
We can casually state that Lyon lags behind Ashwin on some parameters and vice-versa, but when we look at the facts and the context in which they are playing, the two appear much closer than a casual fan might imagine. We are not going to take their elegance, their style of play or their attitude in a match. We are just going to analyse the facts, and come out with the better player amongst the two.
Let’s get into the analysis.
In the first section of the analysis, we shall take a look at the similarity in the bowling action of these two spinners.
For an off-spinner, the wicket-taking ball is the delivery which spins and bounces more than the batsmen would anticipate. Both Ashwin and Lyon compel the batsmen to make a misjudgment by generating a stunning loop with their actions.
Deliveries bowled by them dip in front of the batsmen, forcing them to make an error. This dip is the result of massive revolutions. Given their control over pace and length, owing to their action, they are lethal even in a dead track.
To put it simply, the average is the number of runs conceded per wicket taken by the bowler. We are now going to look at their averages against each opposition and see how well they’ve performed in this aspect.
We can see right away that Ashwin has a phenomenal average amongst his Asian counterparts with spin-friendly tracks. Furthermore, Ashwin has performed extremely well against South Africa.
He has played 15 matches each against Australia and England where he has averages of 36.51 and 31.89 respectively which are his least performing countries with respect to average.
Lyon’s average in the subcontinent is not as great as Ashwin’s average. Against Sri Lanka, Lyon has an average of 36.82 in 11 innings, which is his third-highest average. This is higher than the highest average of Ashwin, which is 36.51 in 15 innings against England.
In contrast to Ashwin, we can also see that Lyon has a poor average against South Africa with an average of 42.28 in 15 innings. But with England, he has done a better job.
Home and Away Performances
Although it’s easier for players to perform at home, that is, the conditions they’re familiar with, the away season is the challenging one. Here we’re going to look at the performances of Ashwin and Lyon at home, as well as the conditions away from home.
Here, Ashwin gets the better off Lyon, given the added advantage of bowling in India. With 254 wickets at an average of 22.80 in 43 matches, Ashwin’s home record is impeccable. Lyon, on the other hand, has 191 wickets with an average of 31.93 in 48 matches which is not bad for a spinner in Australian conditions.
If we look at the performances in away season, Lyon has better stats when compared to Ashwin. In 44 matches, he has 184 wickets to at an average of 29.42 to his name, which is quite remarkable.
Ashwin, on the other hand, with fewer matches, is trailing behind Lyon. He has 111 wickets at an average of 31.44 in 28 matches.
Hence, we can see that Ashwin is way better in home conditions and on the other hand Lyon has an upper hand when it comes to away Test matches.
Next, we’ll look how well they’ve done in the recent past excluding the year 2020.
Performance in the Last Three Years
We can recall people say that Lyon has performed better than Ashwin in the last three years. Let us see, why.
We can see here that Lyon has outperformed Ashwin in terms of wickets in the last three years. In 2019, Ashwin has played only five Test matches but has 20 wickets whereas Lyon has played 12 matches and has 45 wickets to his name. But with the same number of matches in 2017 and 2018, Lyon has taken more wickets than his Indian counterpart.
Yet what is not mentioned here is that Ashwin has to share the wickets taken by the spinners in a test match with his teammate Ravindra Jadeja, who is also one of India’s lead spinners in tests. Whereas Lyon has been the only test spinner for Australia for a long time. This can be clearly seen when we look at the average of both of these spinners in the given years.
From the above visualization, it is clear that Ashwin has a better average than Lyon in 2018 and 2019 giving proof to the above-mentioned reason.
In 2017, Lyon has 63 wickets at an average of 23.55 in 11 matches which is his best calendar year so far, whereas Ashwin, in his best calendar year (2016) had 72 wickets at an average of 23.90.
Wickets taken with respect to batting order position
Going ahead, here we glance at the wickets that have been taken with regards to the batting order.
Ashwin has been really good with top-order batsman, with 31 per cent of his total wickets being them. This is a pertinent proof that Ashwin has to lead the attack for India. At the other side, Lyon has fared better with Middle Order Batsman, with 42.1 per cent of his overall wickets being them. Hence, Lyon is also pretty effective at breaking the middle order relationship that is so important to a test match.
Next, let’s glance at the analysis of the players who have been dismissed by these bowlers the highest number of times.
This analysis is not necessary to show a flaw or advantage in their bowling, but it would definitely be intriguing to see the players they’ve dismissed.
We’ve witnessed Ashwin start bowling quite early in test matches. This is due to his immense success in removing the openers, thereby toppling the top order as discussed above. He has dismissed two of the finest openers, David Warner and Alastair Cook nine times each, Ed Cowan seven times and Dean Elgar and Kieron Powell six times – all being openers.
Now, let us look at Lyon.
Lyon, in contrast, has been better with middle-order as discussed above. He has dismissed Ajinkya Rahane and Moeen Ali nine times each, Ben Stokes six times and Virat Kohli and Joe Root seven times each.
With not much a difference in their age, we may foresee this argument to continue down the road for years to come. Lyon also has a great deal of assistance from the seamers who are the leading strike bowlers of his country, although Ashwin has to lead the charge himself in most of the occasions for India. This point is true, but it can be turned around in Lyon’s favour by observing that, since Australian seamers are far more prolific in Australia than Indian pacers on their home soil, they appear to take the bulk of the wickets leaving just a few wickets to pick Lyon. In the light of this analysis, it is strongly rational that Lyon should at least be regarded at the same stage as Ashwin in terms of consistency, even if it is too revolutionary for others to find it stronger.