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Evolving Lyon clears all doubts

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How Lyon became Australia's sweetheart (2:15)

Why the offspinner, who has razed his way to becoming the leading wicket-taker in Tests this year, is so loved on the field and off it as well (2:15)

A fair measure of the impact made by Nathan Lyon in India and Bangladesh this year is that when the prospect of four pace bowlers for the Gabba Ashes Test was broached to Australia's coach Darren Lehmann in the aftermath of the Chittagong Test, he stopped it stone dead. "Nathan is going to play," he said. "There's no doubt about that."

The removal of all doubt in a spin bowler, particularly one who has played for Australia in the decade after Shane Warne's retirement, is rare. Over his six years in the Test side, Lyon's level of security in the XI has waxed and waned, seldom more than a match or two away from being the subject of speculation. In Bangladesh, he found himself mentoring Ashton Agar, a spinner once chosen ahead of him, and operating opposite Steve O'Keefe, a bowler who came within a hair's breadth of doing the same in Adelaide last year.

But in the process of regeneration undergone by the Australian team since the loss of five consecutive Tests to Sri Lanka and South Africa in the second half of last year, Lyon's own growth as a spin bowler and leader of the team has made him truly indispensable to Lehmann, the captain Steven Smith and the rest of his team-mates. In the recently released Cricket Australia strategy for the next five years, the team performance element spoke of preparing "adaptable, resilient and competitive" cricketers. Lyon is all three.

In Bangladesh, Lyon was presented with a wide variety of scenarios and conditions in the space of four innings. With the exception of a somewhat sluggish start to the Mirpur match as he wrestled with scant preparation like all the rest, he was able to quickly assess the right way to bowl each time. Smith was most impressed by the way Lyon led the line on day one in Chittagong, where a flat pitch and an unbalanced bowling attack meant he was to a large degree on his own.

"Magnificent, probably more the first innings than the second innings," Smith said of Lyon. "The first innings, the wicket really wasn't offering a great deal. I thought the way he just hit that right area, particularly with the new ball, skidding it on and hitting a few guys in front. That was the perfect way to bowl.

"I'm really proud of him. I think he's come a long way particularly on the subcontinent over the last couple of years. He's developed a different style at times. He knows when to bowl differently and when to bowl his stock ball. I thought the way he bowled throughout this series, to take 22 wickets in a two-match series is remarkable."

With the pitch offering greater assistance a second time around, Lyon became far more predatory, producing a series of viciously kicking, turning and topspinning deliveries that provided the desired breakthroughs. In all, Lyon was able to take control in ways that he had not always been able to in the past, answering a challenge he revealed had been put to him by Smith during the pre-tour camp in Darwin.

"Sitting down with the skipper in Darwin, and obviously before these Test matches he put a big onus on me to take control of the ball," Lyon said. "And if I had kept bowling the way I've been bowling in the nets I'd hopefully be successful. So I'm very happy with the way the ball's been coming out in the nets. Bowling to these guys in the nets, there's no better practice.

"Personal success as everyone knows is not something that I look at. It's moments like we've got now, after winning a Test match for Australia, we'll go back and sit around as a group and tell stories and then sing the song. And that's what I play cricket for, those moments. But personally I'm very happy with the way they're coming out.

"To take 22 wickets in a two-match series, it's a pretty big achievement personally. But as I said, I don't do that without the other guys putting in at the other end, like Patty Cummins bowling well, Ashton Agar, Steve O'Keefe and even Hilton Cartwright in this game. So without the support of those guys and the skipper it's pretty hard to go out and have personal success. So I'm very pleased but very thankful as well."

Lyon's inclusive words are not to be taken lightly, for he has grown himself as a leader over the past 12 months. Though he has been custodian of the team song since Michael Hussey's retirement in January 2013, Lyon has emerged more fully as a senior member of the team by the same necessity of generational change that has brought greater responsibility to the likes of Smith, David Warner, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.

"He's really grown," Lehmann said. "Obviously we changed the set-up of the side 12 months ago and we've had a lot of young guys come in the group. He's had to take a next step as a leader so really pleased the way he's gone about that and also Hazlewood and Starc, they're young guys in terms of their presence if you like, but they've all been really good."

For his part, Smith has enjoyed watching Lyon add more to his Asian repertoire since some limitations of his methods were exposed in Sri Lanka last year - namely the ability to put different sorts of work on the ball to gain greater variation off the pitch. "It's like bowling nowhere else in the world," Smith said. "Back home you get wickets that don't spin a lot. They bounce a lot more. You have to find the right ways to bowl in the conditions.

"Nathan's probably a bit different to a lot of other spinners because he spins the ball such a big way with the way he bowls. He's added another string to his bow by coming around some and going underneath it which is fantastic. It's an invaluable experience. I think for Ashton, who's come over here and played, he's going to learn a great deal from playing the last two Test matches. I'm sure he's going to improve in these conditions as well."

As if to underline Lyon's considerable evolution, the ICC's Test bowling rankings now have a place for him inside the top 10 - the first time he has made it that far. Yet another reason why Lehmann was so adamant about his place in the Gabba team.