Lyon seeks to join elite 500 Test wicket club as Australia begins series against Pakistan

Khawaja to fight authorities after he planned making an on-field statement in support of Palestinians through a message on his shoes

By AP

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Pakistan captain Shan Masood and his Australian counterpart Pat Cummins with the Benaud–Qadir Trophy in Perth. - AP
Pakistan captain Shan Masood and his Australian counterpart Pat Cummins with the Benaud–Qadir Trophy in Perth. - AP

Published: Wed 13 Dec 2023, 8:19 PM

Last updated: Wed 13 Dec 2023, 8:20 PM

Nathan Lyon’s quest for his 500th Test wicket will be one of the individual features of the series opener between Australia and Pakistan beginning Thursday at Perth Stadium.

The 36-year-old offspinner goes into the match with 496 wickets, poised to join Shane Warne (708) and Glenn McGrath (563) as one of the only Australians to take 500 wickets in Test cricket.

Perth Stadium has been a happy hunting ground for Lyon in the past: he has taken 22 wickets in three Tests at an average of 18.45, leading Pakistan to identify him as one of their key figures in the first Test and three-match series.

“As a team from the subcontinent we normally play offspinners really well,” Pakistan team director Mohammad Hafeez said. “In the last couple of series we had a high strike-rate against Nathan Lyon.

“That will remain the same. We know Lyon is a great bowler but as a team we are confident we will take him on.”

Nathan Lyon is poised to join Shane Warne (708) and Glenn McGrath (563) as one of the only Australians to take 500 wickets in Test cricket. - AP
Nathan Lyon is poised to join Shane Warne (708) and Glenn McGrath (563) as one of the only Australians to take 500 wickets in Test cricket. - AP

Australia vice-captain Steve Smith backed Lyon to make a strong return after missing the latter part of the Ashes series in England with a calf muscle injury, describing the veteran spinner as one of - if not the — most valuable players in the team.

“There’s no doubt we missed Nathan at the back end of the Ashes,” Smith said. “What he brings to the attack and the control and different tempos — he can play defensive roles, he can play an attacking role and he’s got all the tricks.

“And closing in on 500 wickets — that’s a serious feat in itself."

Lyon is unconcerned the curator at Perth has predicted a hard and bouncy pitch for the so-called “West Test.” That follows the relative slow surface for last summer’s test against the West Indies.

“I like playing my role here,” Lyon said. “I enjoy bowling here, there’s nice bounce on offer and it’s a nice place to bowl. The wicket looks like a typical Perth wicket. It’s all good signs.”

A fast and bouncy pitch would suit Australia fast bowlers and also the Pakistan paceman Shaheen Shah Afridi.

“Shaheen in particular with the new ball, the ability to bring it back down the line to the right-handers is always a threat,” Smith said. “Any left-armer that can do that at good pace, it’s a skill that we don’t see too often.

“I think he’s improved a lot since he last came out here four years ago.”

Pakistan has many challenges to overcome in the Test series, notably its own history of poor performances in Australia. In tests between the teams in Australia, Australia has won 26, Pakistan has won four and there's been seven draws.

The teams last met in Pakistan in 2022 when Australia won a three-Test series 1-0. Australia also has an unbeaten record in the three Tests it has played at Perth Stadium, which has replaced the WACA as Western Australia's premier cricket arena.

Shan Masood, replacing Babar Azam as captain, said leading Pakistan to a Test win in Australia for the first time since 1995 is a priority for the tour.

“It would mean the world to us,” he said. "We want to go forward as a side, play attractive test cricket.

“For us, it's about the bigger picture — making sure we can compete against the best. And this is the perfect opportunity to do so.”

Meanwhile, Australia batsman Usman Khawaja believes the statements he wrote on his shoes in support of the people of Gaza were not political and said he would fight the International Cricket Council (ICC)'s ruling that he cannot display them while playing.

Khawaja had the messages "Freedom is a human right" and "All lives are equal" written on his boots in the colours of the Palestinian flag in Tuesday's training for the first Test against Pakistan.

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Australia captain Pat Cummins said on Wednesday that the Pakistan-born opener had agreed not to display the messages during the match when it started on Thursday, but Khawaja later posted an emotional video on the social media site X.

"The ICC have told me I can't wear my shoes on the field because they believe it's a political statement under their guidelines," he said.

"I don't believe in this though. It's a humanitarian appeal. I will respect their view and decision, but I will fight it and seek to get an approval. Freedom is a human right."


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