One of the big changes in Test cricket in the era of media saturation has been the amount of talking and predicting done by the competitors in the lead-up to a series. Never is this more evident than in an Ashes series, and one of the big talking points leading into the 2017-18 version was discussion surrounding the venue. The Gabbatoir, as it is now commonly referred to by locals in the hope that this will lead to the slaughtering of England, was the focal point of much of what really amounted to trash talking.
The Gabba has become an Australian fortress to the point where the home side hasn't been beaten at the ground since 1988, the tail end of West Indies' dominant period. Throughout the bulk of this remarkably successful period, one man, Kevin Mitchell Jr, has been in charge of the surface at the Gabbatoir.
In his 27 years preparing the Gabba, Mitchell has been a reliable source of information regarding the pitch. A fine curator, he predicted the pitch would be on the slow side on the opening day and provide a little seam movement for the faster bowlers. This was in contrast to the vocal storm in the lead-up to the match, suggesting this fast, bouncy surface would revive memories of Mitchell Johnson's blistering pace that led to England's unsightly demise in 2013-14.
The contrast was so great that it was Nathan Lyon, the now self-confident offspinner, who provided as many headaches for the England batsmen as any of the trio of fast men. This was further confirmation that Shane Warne's "if it seams, it spins" theory was more than just a cleverly calculated comment to aid his regular bamboozling of batsmen.
The fact that the early conjecture regarding the surface proved illusory is evidence that batsmen should play what comes down rather than what is expected to arrive. Or as it used to be more simply stated: "Play each ball on its merits."
The slower-than-expected Gabba pitch also reinforced the need for a balanced attack in order to cover all eventualities. This is why Lyon has become such a valuable member of Steven Smith's outfit and will play a crucial role in this Ashes contest.
The lack of an allrounder in the middle order to provide some relief overs for the front-line Australian fast bowlers means it's crucial that Lyon isn't dominated by the England batsmen. On the early evidence at the Gabba, it's clear that not only won't Lyon be dominated, he's likely to seriously trouble a few of the more leaden-footed England players.
The vast improvement in Lyon's self-belief can be put down to his "Indian experience". Ever since Lyon bowled Australia to victory over India in a highly exciting and emotional contest at Adelaide Oval in 2014-15, his stocks have been on the rise. He followed that career-changing 12-wicket performance with a couple of valuable contributions earlier this year, which have helped him become a more complete spinner.
The slowness of the Gabba pitch on the opening day also bucked a recent trend of home teams receiving specially prepared surfaces that suit their needs. In Australia the curator has more autonomy than in other parts of the world and any requests to provide a particular surface are likely to be met with a curt: "Get stuffed."
I believe international pitch preparation should be the sole domain of one person - the curator or groundsman. The better ones I've encountered have as much pride in their performance as players, and they aim to prepare a surface that provides good cricket and a result late on the final day. Mitchell has regularly done that throughout his illustrious career by providing pitches that give every player an opportunity to shine. His is a great example of why the best Test matches are played on surfaces that give some encouragement to the bowlers.