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Australia v Sri Lanka: Nathan Lyon works to put a fresh spin on Test defeat

GALLE: Australian spinner Nathan Lyon has begun experimenting to improve his repertoire on the sub-continent, having admitted he has not performed as well as he would have liked in Sri Lanka.
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On what should have been day four of the second Test, but was now an optional training day after a 229-run defeat, Lyon was one player who returned to the nets, keen to delve into the mysteries of bowling on the sub-continent.

Lyon, the first Australian off-spinner to claim 200 Test wickets, has worked assiduously on his bowling, but has been told by coach Darren Lehmann he needs to improve in Asian conditions.

Skipper Steve Smith also spoke after the series loss on Saturday about how his spinners needed to bowl more with a “side seam” where, once the ball lands, even the bowler does not know what it will actually do, as opposed to the more conventional way of holding the seam and looking to deceive batsmen with drift.

But Lyon, who has has nine wickets at 30.88 in the series to date, said he had been offering the variety Smith had mentioned.

“I’m comfortable going over the top of the ball and also around it. A lot of their spinners go around it and you get that natural variation with the ball going straight on,” he said on Sunday.

“At the end of the day, I have been bowling with a fair few variations where a lot of people aren’t going to pick up on that. That is a subtle variation in my wrist.

“So, I think I can probably go a little bit more and experiment a little bit more – I am going down to training today to experiment more of how far my wrist can go underneath it [the ball], just to see how the ball reacts. I do believe that we have been doing that but, as I said, they [Sri lanka] have been playing quite well over here.”

Lyon refused to blame his underperforming batsmen for heaping extra pressure on him. Sri Lanka have been dismissed for relatively modest scores of 117, 353, 281 and 237 through the two Tests, but there has been only the one Australian half-century – Smith in the second innings in Kandy.

Lyon’s record on the sub-continent remains a work in progress – and will need to improve heading into the third Test, in Colombo from Saturday, and the four-Test series in India, from February.

Outside of this series, he claimed eight wickets at 36.87 in his debut series of 2011 in Sri Lanka, 15 at 37.33 in three Tests on the controversy-marred tour of India in 2013, and three at 140.66 in two Tests against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in 2014.

His modest return here, having lost spinning partner Steve O’Keefe to injury in Kandy, and had debutant Jon Holland by his side in Galle, is under the spotlight because 36 of the 40 Australian wickets to fall have been to spin. This includes Rangana Herath’s 15 at an average of 14.13, Dilruwan Perera’s 11 at 15.63 (10 in Galle) and Lakshan Sandakan’s nine at 15.22.

“I probably haven’t been the best I probably can be but I am learning about bowling in the sub-continent, and I have got high ambitions to perform well in this next Test match,” Lyon said.

Lyon had worked with cricket’s greatest wicket-taker, Muthiah Muralidaran, on the eve of the series but Lyon said the Sri Lankan great had not altered his action.

“Mural hasn’t changed my action, but he’s definitely spoken to me about the mental side of the game over here, and it comes down to challenging the stumps and trying to challenge the defence and make them [batsmen] make decisions off the stumps,” he said.

Smith and selection chairman Rod Marsh had a good chat at breakfast, with the batting woes a likely discussion point. Shaun Marsh is set to be seriously considered for a recall, with Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja and even Adam Voges under pressure.

Former skipper Allan Border had called for Marsh to be reinstated heading into the second Test, at the expense of either his brother, all-rounder Mitch, or paceman Josh Hazlewood. The Colombo wicket is expected to be flat, with spin and pace needed, as was the case last year in India’s victory.

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