Nathan Lyon: Australia’s king of India
NATHAN Lyon utterly embarrassed whipping boy Virat Kohli and his sinking ship on Saturday night to claim undisputed status as Australia's king of India.
Just weeks after his career appeared on the ropes during the home summer, Lyon responded ferociously by tearing open the second Test in Bangalore with a stunning haul of 8-50 that ranks as the greatest performance ever in India by an international bowler.
Down 1-0 and wilting under pressure as Steve Smith predicted, India's castle is in danger of falling today after another epic batting choke to be all out for 189 was compounded by David Warner and Matt Renshaw batting through to stumps to ensure Australia trails by just 149.
India smashed mammoth total after mammoth total against England recently, but against Australia they look clueless against spin.
However, despite Australia now having a golden chance to lock up the Border-Gavaskar trophy, the sight of such profound turn and variable bounce on day one in Bangalore will be keeping Smith's dressing room firmly on its toes when they resume on 0-40.
Lyon's game-breaking career-best figures also rocketed him to the top of the charts as the most successful Australian bowler to face the mighty Indians in Test history, with his 58 scalps from 12 Tests eclipsing an array of superstars including Brett Lee (52), Richie Beanaud (51) and Glenn McGrath (50).
The landmark moment on Saturday came when Lyon trapped Kohli on the back foot, plumb lbw not playing a shot - marking the fifth time Lyon has dismissed the world's best batsman in his career.
These milestones have all been knocked off by an under-pressure offie who had his sub-continental credentials put under a microscope both inside the Australian camp and out in Sri Lanka last year; an intense examination that almost snowballed into him being dropped on two occasions during the summer.
"It's taken a fair bit of work if I'm going to be brutally honest," said Lyon.
"After the tour of Sri Lanka I obviously went home and reflected on that personally and worked very, very hard with John Davison at home. In the lead up to the BBL games I was going down to the games two hours before and bowling in the nets with John and Darren Berry on separate occasions and we really worked on my strengths.
"I obviously studied a lot of what Ashwin does very well over here. He's the best spinner in the world and if I can learn off him, so be it.
"It's finally very, very satisfying to get some reward for all the hard work you put in."
"To get Virat's wicket was exceptional … I love challenging myself against the best players. I want to do well against the best players and prove that to myself.
"I don't need to prove it to anyone else in the world. I just need to prove it to myself that I'm good enough."
A week after Steve O'Keefe's first innings heroics rocked India in Pune, Lyon went two better to skittle the rattled hosts for just 189 on day one, at one point driving a crippling collapse of 6-33.
This was an emphatic reminder why Lyon - whose previous best innings figures were 7-94 - was so boldly endorsed by coach Darren Lehmann as Australia's No.1 spinner for this tour.
By his own admission, Lehmann had put as much pressure on Lyon as anyone in recent months, but yesterday he was the first to greet the 29-year-old as he walked from the field soaking in the signature moment of his 241-wicket career.
Lyon took five wickets in the first Test only to be shadowed by O'Keefe's historic achievement, but yesterday it was the veteran's time to shine and Australia are in complete command.
"I thought Nathan Lyon bowled really well in Pune," tweeted former captain Michael Clarke.
"But he has been even better today. Absolutely brilliant."
Both teams were shocked by the amount of spin on day one after Kohli and Steve Smith had predicted a 500-plus first innings total would be paramount. However, now all bets are off with variable bounce and mega turn set to make this Test another tooth-and-nail fight for batsmen.
O'Keefe fought back with a key breakthrough at the end of the second session to leave India precariously placed at 5-168 at tea.
However, despite their hard work, Australia were also left to wonder how much two dropped chances in the field from Peter Handscomb and David Warner that gave opener Lokesh Rahul a double-boost would cost them.
Lyon put paid to that concern though, skittling those around Rahul before ultimately claiming his wicket for 90.
Rahul was the only Indian batsman to score more than 26.
Matt Hayden described Lyon as a class above, and Brett Lee, praised him as the unsung hero of the series so far.
"He went under the radar the first Test didn't he because of O'Keefe," Lee said in Star Sports commentary.
"But that's game on here … the Australians can smell the blood."
On the back foot after losing their first toss on Indian soil in eight Test matches, Lyon broke a 61-run partnership to hoodwink star Indian No.3 Cheteshwar Pujara (17) and give Australia.
But the potentially game-changing moment was still to come when Lyon caught India's superstar captain Kohli having a brainfade.
Kohli butchered a review by sending the decision upstairs and regretted it immediately, trudging off after seeing a replay to continue his unhappy run from the first Test where he made a duck and 13.
India went to lunch with the score firmly in the balance but shortly after the break were 3-83 with their best batsman back in the shed, after Mitchell Starc had made a sizzling early breakthrough to trap newcomer Abhinav Mukund for a duck.
Matt Wade had a stellar day behind the stumps, bagging two stumpings - one each off Lyon and O'Keefe.