Ten years after Shane Warne walked off the Sydney Cricket Ground after his final Test, two spinners are set for a shootout for the role of Australia’s top tweaker.
Incumbent spinner Nathan Lyon and New South Wales teammate Steve O’Keefe are locked in a battle to get the first crack in February’s tour of India at the SCG Test on Tuesday.
Lyon has claimed more wickets than any other Australian off-spin bowler in history but the pressure to hold his place in Australia’s XI is mounting as a poor recent record continues.
Selectors could opt to mirror last summer’s SCG Test that had the pair sharing the spin duties, where they combined for six of 10 wickets in a rain-affected match.
But while the game’s greatest leg-spinner bid farewell after the SCG Test in 2007, Australia’s greatest off-spinner could be left out before it.
Lyon has claimed nine wickets and given up over 600 runs in home Test matches this summer, and is no guarantee to take his place in the Australian side for the New Year’s Test against Pakistan.
Australian captain Steve Smith refused to endorse Lyon as a certain starter for the SCG Test where the series will still be alive.
Lyon isn’t the only one on the chopping block with batsman Nic Maddinson continuing to tough initiation to Test cricket on Thursday.
The last of O’Keefe’s three Test appearances came in Sri Lanka where he claimed three wickets before injury brought an early end to his series in July.
The 32-year-old had out-bowled Lyon in the opening tour match, picking up ten scalps to Lyon’s two.
There is a good chance Lyon might not even be in the side at the moment if it weren’t for O’Keefe suffering a calf injury in the lead-up to the third Test against South Africa.
O’Keefe had been favoured to play the day-night Test but injury struck and the Sydney Sixers bowler has since made his way back via the Big Bash League.
Australian bowling coach David Saker has called for selectors to bring in an all-rounder for the third Test, fearing the workloads on fast bowlers could result in injuries.
Quicks Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Jackson Bird combined for 97.3 overs out of 126.3 in Pakistan’s first innings of the Boxing Day Test.
Lyon bowled just 23 overs for one wicket, going for five runs per over – not the workload usually attributed to spin bowlers.
Saker believes a wet ball “played a big part” in Lyon’s limited overs, but there is a growing sentiment Smith has lost faith in the 29-year-old.
Lyon said he had to experiment and work out a way to “find the right pace” for Indian wickets when he was in Canberra in November.
His recent struggles have been well documented and Lyon may be running out of time to secure his place in the XI.
Should O’Keefe soon become the No. 1 option, Lyon would likely remain a part of the Indian touring party with Australian selectors considering taking three spin options to the subcontinent.
But Lyon’s status as a cult figure in Australian cricket thanks to wicketkeeper Matthew Wade’s exclamations of “Nice, Garry” won’t save him in his bid to be the go-to man.