Todd Murphy’s wild journey: from medium pace to Lyon’s understudy

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11 Jan 2023 | 08:48 AM
authorAakash Sivasubramaniam
Anirudh Suresh

Todd Murphy’s wild journey: from medium pace to Lyon’s understudy

Murphy talks to Cricket.com about his journey from military medium to Lyon's understudy in India

Six months ago, when we at Cricket.com asked Todd Murphy to outline his goals for the next 12 months, the off-spinner said the following.

“This year, I really wanna try and work my way into the (Victorian) Shield side and play some more four day cricket.”

Murphy, who in August was in Chennai as a part of a developmental team, at that point had played all of three first-class matches, so his targets and expectations were completely realistic — even though, by then, he had already made one appearance for Australia ‘A’ playing in Sri Lanka.

Cut to January 2023, the 22-year-old, who has had a monstrous start to the Shield season for Victoria, has just been named in the Australian Men’s Senior Test squad to travel to India.

There’s over-achieving, and then there’s what Murphy has done: make a mockery of pre-fixed targets by brutalizing them. But thus far, the 22-year-old’s career trajectory has been such that he’s always left his estimated targets well behind.

It was only three years ago that Murphy was representing Australia at the 2019/20 U19 World Cup in South Africa as a 19-year-old. 

He would go on to get a rookie state contract for Victoria the following year and make his Sheffield Shield debut in 2021, but he was still far from being a red-ball regular owing to the presence of veteran spinner Jon Holland.

Murphy’s target at the start of 2022, then, was to merely play as much senior cricket as he could, notwithstanding the format. However, just six months into the year, he found himself representing Australia ‘A’ in Sri Lanka. 

“When I got told I would be going to Sri Lanka, it was a bit of a shock for me,” Murphy told Cricket.com in August. 

“I was probably questioning whether I was good enough or whether I deserved the opportunity. 

“But when I got the chance to go to Sri Lanka and be in that environment, be around guys that had played a lot of cricket for Australia, it was hugely beneficial. I took a lot of confidence from the trip.”

That Murphy’s call-up for the India Tests is not being seen or considered a ‘shock’ is a testament to the off-spinner’s progress; there have been less than six months between his ‘A’ selection and the call-up to the senior side.

None of this, however, would have come to fruition had the Victorian made a different career choice six years ago.

***

This is Todd Murphy at the Pachaiyappa's College Cricket Ground in Chennai, holding the match-ball after taking a sensational match-winning final-session hat-trick against a select MRF Pace Academy side.

This, of course, may seem like a normal picture, but the backstory makes it curiously historic.

With Murphy never having previously taken a hat-trick at the professional level, we at Cricket.com joked if we were among the privileged 0.0000001% to have seen him take his first ever career hat-trick.

“First hat-trick bowling off-spin,” he said, chuckling.

“I’ve got one bowling medium pace,” he later went on to correct us.

It was six years ago that Murphy, back then a medium pace-bowling all-rounder, decided to give up his military mediums for off-spin. The reason behind the transition? Simple: despite being a designated ‘medium pace-bowling all-rounder’, he was, back then, neither good at pace bowling nor batting.

“I was never a quick-bowler anyway. I probably knew medium pace was never going to work and I always wanted to be a batsman,” he said.

“But the batting side of things didn’t progress as much as I hoped, either, so I started bowling off-spin in the nets a little bit, did a bit of the work with it and one of the coaches I worked with a lot told me he liked what he was seeing and told me to persist with off-spin. 

“I thought about it pretty hard and I made a decision. So happy that I ended up making that decision; I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.”

The inevitable Nathan Lyon comparisons

The last time Australia called-up a rookie off-spinner with a handful of FC matches under his belt to the Test squad for a series in the subcontinent, that individual went on to become ‘The GOAT’.

Murphy’s rise is eerily similar to that of Nathan Lyon, but the similarities don’t end there.

When you watch Murphy bowl, it is impossible to not get reminded of Lyon. The run-up, the load, the high arm, the follow through — everything cries ‘Lyon junior’. 

Turns out, it is not simply a case of our eyes deceiving us, or our brain playing tricks. While Murphy has not exactly modeled his action fully around Lyon, some parts of it have been influenced by the legendary off-spinner’s methods.

“I don’t think my action has consciously been influenced by Lyon. But the momentum you need through the crease, influenced by my run-up, that does come through him and how successful he’s been,” he said.

“You grow up watching cricket, you see what works and try and add little things in. But I think as far as the actual action is concerned, it’s just what feels natural to me — it’s what I’ve always done. 

“So the run up, I’ve sort of taken that (from Lyon). I try to get as much energy as I can behind me and I think he does that really well. So yeah a little bit.”

It’s not just the career trajectory and the action, though. Like Lyon, Murphy relies on overspin — rather than sidespin. 

And like for the master himself, bowling with overspin has brought huge success back home so far for Murphy, who in six first-class matches in Australia has taken 21 wickets at an average of 21.9. Since his FC debut in April 2021, no spinner in the Shield has taken more wickets at a better average. 

The 22-year-old believes, in order to be successful, overspin is the way to go in Australia.

“I’m naturally lucky enough to possess decent wrists but there’s been a lot of work put in to ensure I get as much overspin as I can in Australian conditions. 

“Obviously it varies in different conditions - where you can go a bit squarer with your seam - but in Australian conditions I think it’s really important to be able to bowl with a lot of overspin. It’s still a work in progress, but that’s what you’ve got to do to be successful in Australia.”

The forthcoming series against India will be the first time Murphy will be a direct understudy to Lyon in the national set-up, but it won’t be the first time the duo will be in the company of each other.

Lyon first got a glimpse of Murphy nearly three years ago — during the first wave of the pandemic — when his former NSW teammate Nic Maddinson requested him to oversee the bowling of a then 19-year-old Murphy. 

Murphy, back then, was new to senior cricket having just graduated from the junior level, and it could easily have been a highly intimidating prospect for a rookie to be rubbing shoulders with one of Australia’s greats.

But according to the 22-year-old, being mentored by Lyon felt like ‘bouncing ideas off a mate’.

“I had bowled in front of him (Lyon) once before but in a pretty informal setting. When Nic (Maddinson) mentioned to me that he would ask Nathan Lyon to come down and bowl with me, I was super excited and jumped at it,” Murphy said.

“He is a really chilled out guy and good fun as well. When you are training with him, it doesn’t feel like you’re trying to impress him or something like that. You feel like he’s just one of your mates that you get along with and bounce ideas off. 

“So there definitely wasn’t any pressure. I was just super lucky to have a player like Lyon take interest (in my bowling), come down and help me out. So I was very grateful for that.”

The learning never stops for Murphy

Like most of the modern-day spinners, the 22-year-old never shies away from learning, insisting that his goal for the long-term future is to fit in the Australian scheme of things at No.7 or No.8, as a bowling all-rounder, a position which Ashton Agar is currently gunning for in the sub-continent. 

“My batting is still a work in progress and something I really want to take to the next level," he said.

"The more valuable you can be with the bat, the more XIs you will find yourself a part of. It’s always nice to be able to spend time in tough conditions and to be able to learn on the go. I will keep working on it. It’s something I want in three or four years to be able to bat at No.7 and really contribute to sides.”

But the lab isn’t restricted to just improving his secondary skill but also his primary skill — bowling, where he wants to add as many variations as possible to his armory. To an extent, the drive, desire and the craziness with which Murphy talks about his bowling is very reminiscent of the spin scientist, Ravichandran Ashwin. 

“You’re always trying to add new things and trying to find different ways of making the ball do funny things, so I’m working on a couple of balls that spin the other way. Especially more for the white-ball game, to plant something different in the batters’ minds. 

"But it’s a hard balance. You’ve got to ensure to put in as much time as possible with your stock ball and make sure it’s the best it can be. It’s a fine balance but you’ve got to have variation in cricket.”

By now we have a fair idea of who Todd Murphy the cricketer is, but what about Todd Murphy the person?

“I think I’m a pretty laid-back guy that enjoys being around people and wants to have a good time and enjoy himself. I hope other people see me as a hard-worker and a good teammate; that’s what I want to be,” Murphy took even the ‘unexpected’ question in his natural stride. 

In essence, Murphy is quite a realist with both feet well-grounded, firmly focused on the game of cricket. His career might have taken off and skyrocketed, but underneath still lies a humble youngster who just wants to dream and dream big, taking up the sport just like many of us with a smile.

India potentially can witness the Murphy Law in action but with a twist: For the bespectacled spin wizard, “ ̶A̶n̶y̶t̶h̶i̶n̶g̶  everything that can go right has gone right." 

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