What makes Nathan Lyon proud? Not the wickets – of which there are many – or the Test caps. No, it was an informal meeting in a Sydney hotel room after Michael Hussey retired that is the pinnacle of Lyon’s sporting life.
“He called me up and I went with a couple of beers in hand,” Lyon begins, the cadence of his words altering. “He gave me a handwritten letter explaining that he wanted to hand me the team song. It’s probably the proudest moment throughout my whole career. We sank a couple of beers and I spent about an hour trying to convince him not to retire.”
Since being introduced by Rod Marsh during the 1970s, Under the Southern Cross I Stand has been Australia’s victory chant. Today, it stands as the most elite act of mateship in Australian cricket.
“It was incredible, mate,” Lyon tells Telegraph Sport ahead of this year’s Ashes series , and even a decade later, the emotion is audible. “I’m getting goosebumps talking about it. It’s a pretty amazing moment, to be honest. I’ve got the letter here at home, framed up. I won’t be giving that one away.”
Lyon’s Test career was just 19 matches old when Hussey passed the baton. The late, great Shane Warne had already retired, meaning Lyon had no spinning shoulder to lean on during his formative matches.
“[Hussey] really put his arm around me and looked after me in so many different ways, on and off the field,” he explains. “He liked the way I go about things, the way I respected the meaning behind the baggy green, the way I played my cricket.”
For Hussey to show that faith in Lyon then, meant a little extra. The off-spinner’s selection was far from certain at that point. Indeed, he was omitted for the second Test of the subsequent India tour and missed the opening two Ashes Tests that summer.
But since returning at Old Trafford in August 2013, Lyon has not skipped a Test beat: Lord’s in June will, all other things being equal, be Lyon’s 100th in a row.
‘I didn’t really know what I was doing when I played my first Test’
It is a stark contrast to England, of course, who no longer have their front-line spinner after Jack Leach was ruled out of the Ashes with a back injury.
Lyon was thrust into Test action just 203 days after his first-class bow. “When you put it like that, it proves to me that I didn’t really know what I was doing when I played my first Test,” he says.
That is undoubtedly no longer the case, yet Lyon still feels nerves. That apprehension does not stem from a lack of belief in his skills set: it is “more about caring about my team-mates and caring about playing cricket for Australia. I feel like that’s a massive privilege”.
Lyon is a key cog in a team built around consistency, experience – nine of the summer’s likely starting XI have played at least 36 Tests – and strong and stable leadership.
“Andrew [McDonald, the head coach] brings a really calming influence on the group,” Lyon begins. “And with Pat [Cummins] and Smithy [Steve Smith], I feel like we’ve got arguably the best bowler in the world’s mindset, and one of the best batters in the world’s mindset leading us from the front.
‘We have a lot of banter but we train our backsides off’
“Pat is really able to bring all these players close together. We have so much fun off the field, a lot of banter, but we train our backsides off. We trust that everyone’s doing the work behind the scenes as well to make sure we’re at the level we need to be.”
Among the less experienced players to feature recently are Todd Murphy and Matt Kuhnemann. They, alongside Lyon, formed a spin triptych during the recent India trip.
“I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to hopefully mentor and help them out along the way, to put my arm around them and guide them whenever required,” Lyon says.
The fact that Lyon had little guidance when he began has stuck with him. “I feel like, without being arrogant, I have a lot of knowledge and a lot of experiences, positive and negative. I feel like I’ve learnt along my journey. I’ve got so much to offer these young guys.”
Lyon is intriguing company. He juxtaposes media lines – the 30-minute conversation is punctuated by references to “brands” of cricket – with genuine warmth. He combines steel with humour. He pulls off confidence while rarely straying into arrogance (albeit the eighth-highest Test wicket-taker in history can be forgiven the occasional strut).
Not that Lyon’s nickname the Goat – an acronym of ‘greatest of all time’ that was bestowed upon him by Smith and Brad Haddin – sits comfortably.
“When you don’t like a nickname it tends to stick around a lot longer. Me being me, not liking being the centre of attention, pushed back a little bit. Now I’ve got young kids calling me the Goat, Garry and everything else under the sun when I walk down the street. It is what it is. I can’t see it changing now.”
‘I did children’s book series to get my girls off iPads’
Lyon has leaned into ‘Garry’ – a reference to the 1990s Aussie rules star with the same surname – though, by releasing a semi-autobiographical children’s book series. When speaking about ‘Nice Garry’, Lyon’s softer side comes out again.
“It was more to try and get my two girls off the iPads. If they can read about Dad but not really Dad, then hopefully they will pick up the books. I can tell you it’s been a success. They love them. They’ve read the books to me. That was very surreal but also very special.”
Back to cricket, Lyon is not fazed by ‘Bazball’. In fact, he seems genuinely excited about it after claiming: “I want people to come at me. I feel like that’s been part of my journey.”
But a spinner must balance attack with defence, right? “I feel like as a spinner having an ‘in-out’ field is probably more like the fast bowler’s field with three slips and a gully. Why would I leave mid-on up and let the batter have three free shots, and get 12 to 18 runs quite quickly? As a bowler you’re suddenly on the back foot.
“So yeah, I’ll definitely be having protection. There’s no doubt about that. I’ve had it for the last 119 Test matches and won’t be changing that now.”
Good luck for the summer, Nathan. “You don’t mean that, mate,” he replies. “But appreciate it anyway.”