What’s A Spin Bowler Without a Mystery Ball?

To my mind, spin bowling is not a modest pursuit. It takes courage, conviction and creativity to be a world-class slow bowler.

And while Nathan Lyon is a solid off-spin bowler, there’s nothing sexy about using your index finger to impart revs on a 156g cricket ball for hours on end, despite what you might have heard.

Basically, a few wickets here and there are not enough. Nathan Lyon needs to sex things up; to get all greasy and shit, put some Barry White on, and fuck around a bit.

What I’m saying, obviously is this: He needs a mystery ball. He needs to create mystique and intrigue; to baffle and bewilder his opponents.

Bit of this wouldn't hurt
Bit of this wouldn’t hurt

Shane Warne used to present a new mystery ball every year. It was all hype and marketing. Like rebranding a tired old product to give it new life (not that anyone could accuse Warne’s core product, the leg break, of being boring; quite the reverse, it was a durable and relentlessly profitable offering that will stand the test of time), Warne knew the art of spin.

PR spin, that is.

Take Warne’s flipper, for example. I’m 99% sure Warne timed the flipper launch with that of the 1996 box office smash, Flipper. This is the kind of marketing genius that Warne was.

Despite rating just 5.1 on IMdB, Flipper was the feel-good hit of the summer that year. Warne’s own flipper capitalised on this goodwill and box office success, yet subverted the general theme outlined in the movie (a young boy’s “summer adventure of a lifetime”) by unleashing a fearsome delivery that bore more resemblance to Jaws than the eponymous dolphin in Flipper.

Now, from what I hear, Nathan Lyon is reluctant to bestow a ‘name’ on one of his mystery deliveries, despite some pressure from Grandstand commentators. I’m just not sure why he would forgo the opportunity to hype up a new product launch; to make the market aware of this diversification strategy.

Critically panned by Roger Ebert, but adored by cricket fans around the world
Critically panned by Roger Ebert, but adored by cricket fans around the world

Perhaps this is Lyon’s country affectation coming in to play – he is too modest to bestow clever monikers on his deliveries; to him they are simply balls. But this humility lets him down. Of all the cricketing arts, spinning is the one where flamboyance, cheekiness and daring are accepted.

Indeed, Australia yearns for a spin bowler who can both entrance and captivate his opponents and the crowds. Warne did it masterfully; Lyon doesn’t appear to be trying.

While Nathan Lyon has held down the spinning role for the past few summers, his position is far from certain. A bit of mystery and marketing could add a new element to his game, and ward off any new challengers.

By Dave Edwards 

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