Lyon pitches for Gabba spot
Every year it seems Nathan Lyon enters an Australian summer with his place in question, and every year he weathers talk of an all-pace attack in Brisbane to retain his spot and bowl neatly at the Gabba.
This time Lyon seems under more pressure than usual, having struggled to find the right method to deceive Pakistan's batsmen in the UAE, and suddenly finding himself without his recently-won ODI place at the outset of the home summer.
But there may be a method to the current line of thinking, as Lyon bowls for New South Wales at the Gabba from Sunday and regains familiarity with a ground that is by far his best in Australia. Would a fourth quick have taken 15 wickets at 21.86 over the three Brisbane Tests Lyon has played? Not likely.
"I love playing at the Gabba, it's a great venue for cricket full stop, especially Test match cricket it's one of my favourite venues around Australia," Lyon said. "Hopefully it will bounce a bit more than Dubai and Abu Dhabi that's for sure. Bounce is a big weapon for me, so I'm looking forward to getting a bit more bounce out there."
Bounce was absent from Lyon's bowling and bearing in the UAE, where he and his NSW offsider Steve O'Keefe both struggled for the sort of traction gained by their opposite numbers Zulfiqur Babar and Yasir Shah. But Lyon pointed rightly to Australia's 11 dropped catches as one reason for their struggles that needs to be rectified ahead of India's arrival.
"They got 20 wickets each Test match and we probably didn't field our best and that's probably one area we let ourselves down a bit," Lyon said. "I'm never going to blame anyone for dropping a catch, no-one ever goes out there meaning to drop a catch, we train hard, we bat, bowl and field our hearts out at training and we're always trying to improve.
"But things do happen and people do drop catches ... on those wickets we need to turn half chances into full chances and take them. It's hard enough to get 20 wickets, let alone 25-30."
Lyon returned from family leave - his partner Mel recently gave birth to the couple's second child - following the Blues' last-day victory over South Australia at Adelaide Oval, where O'Keefe bowled exemplary spells to demonstrate some of his learnings from facing Pakistan. They will bowl in tandem for NSW against Queensland, but there will only be room for one of them when the India Tests roll around.
"There's always competition but we're good mates, we want the best for each other so we'll be pushing each other in the nets all the time and try to help each other in the game as well," Lyon said. "It was fantastic to see SOK come back from a Test tour and do well and win a game for NSW. I thought he bowled really well in the first Test and was unlucky to be left out in those conditions in the second Test.
"You're always under pressure, you're playing international cricket at the highest level, so if people aren't putting you under pressure you're not improving. It's about how you handle that and how you bounce back. I'm looking forward to the Shield game in Brisbane. I'm confident in my skill to get the job done no matter what or where we play."
Shane Warne has commented that he was somewhat puzzled by Lyon's bowling in the UAE, seemingly changing from the fundamentals that helped him to succeed against England last summer. Muttiah Muralitharan was part of Australia's entourage for that series, and while Lyon said he enjoyed the Sri Lankan's counsel, was eager to get back to Brisbane and the familiar advice of the National Cricket Centre spin coach John Davison.
Another face Lyon will be looking forward to seeing is that of Ryan Harris, the fast man who was decidedly conspicuous by his absence from the UAE due to the aftermath of knee surgery. "It looks like he'll be running around for the Bulls and we know how crucial he is to the Australian bowling attack," Lyon said. "So if he can get back fit and well and bowling well it's going to be fantastic for Australian cricket."
Should Harris be able to return at somewhere near his best, Lyon will be far from the only beneficiary.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig