Lyon talks up Australia's 'belief' in tough chase

With 202 runs to get and six wickets in hand, the offspinner says there is confidence in the rest of the batting group

Alex Malcolm

10-Mar-2024 • 21 hrs ago

Steven Smith was the first to go as Australia’s stumbled in their chase of 279 in Christchurch  •  Getty Images

Nathan Lyon’s words said one thing but his body language and tone said quite another as Australia still have a chance to pull off a great escape in the second Test against New Zealand at Hagley Oval.

Australia slumped to 34 for 4 in pursuit of the target of 279. Lyon had been padded up as the nightwatcher yet again but was not required after Travis Head and Mitchell Marsh steered Australia to stumps without any further loss. But they still need 202 runs to win with just six wickets in hand and two days of the Test remaining.

Lyon said Australia believe they can win from any position.

“It would be a great Test match win if we’re able to pick this off,” Lyon said after play. “There’s a lot of belief in that change room and I think that’s credit to Pat [Cummins] and Ron [Andrew McDonald], the way they go about their leadership, instilling a lot of belief that we can win from any position.

“And we’ve now found ourselves in this position that our backs are up against the wall. New Zealand were on a roll tonight but I’m sitting here understanding and believing that we can win, that’s for sure.”

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Australia did chase down 282 at Edgbaston in the first Ashes Test in June last year, with Cummins and Lyon finishing as the heroes, sharing an unbeaten 55-run stand for the ninth wicket. But Australia have only run down 279 or more in the fourth innings on 13 occasions and only twice since 2006.

Before Edgbaston, Australia’s last successful chase of that size was in South Africa in 2011, when Cummins was again the hero on Test debut as an 18-year-old while Lyon was nervously padded up as the next and last man in.

“We’ve been able to tick off a couple of totals in the past,” Lyon said. “So there’s a lot of the confidence within our batting group and us bowlers with the bat in hand. We pride ourselves on our batting, so we’ll give it our best chance if it comes down to that.”

But while Lyon was bullish with his words, his body language and tone told a different story. Just eight days earlier, he had sat bolt upright in the press conference room on the third night of the Wellington Test and declared confidently with a smile that Australia would easily create the seven chances required with the ball to win the game despite New Zealand being 111 for 3 chasing 369.

In Christchurch, he was leaning forward and speaking in a quieter tone. He had only just taken the pads off, having admitted he had nervously sat there as the nightwatcher, a job he has had to do twice already in this series, having not done it for two years despite being Australia’s designated man.

“Too often I seem to be batting in the top six,” Lyon said. “Happy to do the role but it’s nice that I didn’t have to walk out there tonight.”

He stopped short of criticising his batting group, but his tone spoke volumes as to how the team is feeling about their latest batting collapse.

“It’s not a frustration. I think it’s a learning curve for us,” Lyon said. “We’re on a path, and on a journey, on a dream to become one of Australia’s great cricket teams.

“And I’m not saying that we are that at the moment. It’s a learning experience for us. And if we can try and get better at that, then it’s going to put us in really good stead on our dream to become a great Australian team.

“I know that we’ve got a lot of work to do, but that’s our dream and that’s our goal.”

They were interesting words from a largely unchanged World Test Championship-winning team. A team with nine of the 11 members over the age of 30 and one other aged 29.

Australia could still win at Hagley Oval. But, right now, their actions and words are not in sync.

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Alex Malcolm is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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