As Australia’s fearsome fast bowlers dominate the pre-Ashes hype, former captain Michael Clarke has warned the English not to underestimate the home team’s real danger man.
Off-spinner Nathan Lyon may not make the English batsmen weave and duck under short balls, but with 46 wickets from seven Tests in 2017 he is in rich form.
Clarke told The New Daily that pundits have been so preoccupied with the quicks, they have forgotten about the dangerous spinner.
“Nathan Lyon is going to have a big say on the Ashes,” he said.
“He always goes under the radar and everyone underestimates the impact he has on the game, on situations … as a captain, I thought he played such an important role in us rising from No.5 to No.1 in the world.
“He has grown as a bowler since the last Ashes. He is so consistent now, he knows his game really well, he is more confident.
“Once again this series, no one will talk about Nathan Lyon, but I won’t be surprised at all if he is right up there with the leading wicket-takers at the end of the series.”
Australia is a short-priced favourite to win back the Ashes and home ground advantage will play a major part in the series, according to Clarke.
“Australia are warm favourites but I don’t think people would be saying that if the Ashes series was in England,” he said.
“But with [Josh] Hazelwood, [Mitchell] Starc and [Pat] Cummins – you have speed through the air, swing and control – you’ve got all facets for Australian conditions.
“The challenge for England is they have to adapt to the conditions … while our bowlers know the conditions inside out.”
Traditionally, England has not fared well Down Under, winning the Ashes on our shores just once in the past 30 years, in 2010-11.
Clarke does not feel England can succeed in Australia if it is not successful in next week’s first Test at the Gabba.
“The most important thing for me is the first Test match,” he said. “I believe if England are going to win the series they have to win the first Test.
“I always felt as a captain and player that if you can win the first Test match – then you are a long way to winning the series.
“That will be my focus if I was Joe Root or, for that matter, Steve Smith – I would not be looking too far ahead past Brisbane.”
With star all-rounder Ben Stokes suspended for his alleged involvement in a late-night brawl, and a lack of experience in England’s top order, many have suggested skipper Root should elevate himself from his customary No.4 spot to the crucial No.3 position.
And Clarke said Root should do whatever is necessary for the team – regardless of where he scores more runs.
“It is all about the team,” he said. “Especially when you’re captain – you bat where the team needs you best.
“He is exactly the same as ‘Smithy’ to be honest. It [moving up in the order] should not bother him.
“I would be extremely surprised if both the captains are not in the top three or four leading run-scorers in the series.”
The first Test begins in Brisbane on Thursday.