Hobbling Nathan Lyon shows bravery to help Australia set Ashes target of 371
Australia sent a limping Nathan Lyon out to bat on one leg at Lord’s as their stricken number 11 helped leave a formidable chase of 371 on the fourth day of the second Ashes Test.
England’s ‘Bazball’ era experienced one of its most bewildering days yet as the home side bowled relentless bumpers for more than four and a half hours, with Australia bafflingly timid as they ate up time and queued up to gradually donate their wickets.
Things took an even stranger turn at 264 for nine – with Australia already 355 ahead – when Lyon hopped down the steps of the pavilion to face up at number 11. Barely able to walk after suffering a serious calf strain on the second evening, and almost certainly out of the series, he received a warm ovation for bravely taking up a challenge few expected him to accept.
But the 35-year-old was rendered almost entirely immobile and appeared to badly aggravate the problem when he was forced to hobble through for a single following a sensational diving save on the boundary from substitute fielder Rehan Ahmed.
The overwhelming majority of shots from Lyon and Mitchell Starc came to nothing, with fielders spread on the ropes and no prospect of any further running, but Lyon got one boundary away in a stand of 15 that occupied 25 painful minutes.
If England are to win and level the series 1-1 they will need a ground record, comfortably surpassing the 344 for one managed by the West Indies in 1984. Yet they have established a well-earned reputation for chasing down unlikely totals and hunted down 378 against India last summer with seven wickets to spare.
Lyon was last man out, top-edging Stuart Broad as the seamer wrapped up figures of four for 65, as Australia turned their overnight score of 130 for two into 279 all out.
England will have been more than happy with their work, having started the day already 221 behind with eight wickets still to get.
But even they must have been surprised at the Australian approach, crawling at an average of 2.6 an over during two elongated sessions that amounted to a long-form battle of wills.
Neither side backed down, with Australia incrementally building a lead that would require the second-highest English chase in history to overhaul, and England taking each of the eight wickets with their unrelenting short-pitched deliveries.
Broad was the most effective, accounting for Usman Khawaja, Travis Head, Pat Cummins and Lyon, while there were two wickets for Ollie Robinson and one apiece for Josh Tongue and Ben Stokes.
Stokes, who is battling fitness problems of his own courtesy of a longstanding knee complaint, did not bring himself on until the 77th over of the innings and proceeded to subject himself to a mammoth 12-over spell.
Having put himself through the wringer and seen the apparent wicket of Cummins scrubbed off for a no-ball, he finally got his rewards from his 71st legal delivery. Josh Hazlewood was the man to go, caught by Joe Root at short leg, in what England must have expected to be the final dismissal.
It had seemed a long shot that Lyon would come to the crease, but he appeared fully padded and began his slow walk to the middle even before the ninth wicket fell. His anguish as he attempted to complete the only single of his stay – an unexpected scramble that owed everything to a sensational six-saving leap from Ahmed – caused captain Cummins to cover his face as he watched from the balcony.
Lyon could have left the field then but toughed it out to stretch the lead as far as he could, ensuring England needed 371 rather than 356 to win the day.