Lyon awaits chance to shine on slow South Africa surfaces

Nathan Lyon removed Jonny Bairstow for 22 Getty Images

Nathan Lyon is preparing to play a more central role in the forthcoming Test series than on either of his past two visits to South Africa - not only because he has grown enormously as a bowler since then, but also because the hosts have requested slower surfaces that take some turn to counter the spectre of Australia's "big three" quicks.

As a former member of Adelaide Oval's ground staff, Lyon is well and truly acquainted with the fact that Australia are famed for denying ever asking for specific pitch conditions from home surfaces, in contrast to the trend for pitches made to the home side's order in other parts of the world. The extremes of this state of affairs were witnessed in South Africa's previous Test series - against India - when the Wanderers strip in Johannesburg was so spiteful as to have the batsman Dean Elgar suggesting the match should have been called off.

This time around, the pitches are not expected to offer that much in the way of assistance for seamers, given how South Africa noted the way Australia have struggled on slower surfaces in recent times, whether it be a sluggish seaming surface in England in 2015 or spinning decks in Asia for many years. Either way, Lyon said the visitors were now used to adapting to a landscape where their opponents have the ground staff at their disposal.

"It is what it is these days, you see it all around the world," Lyon said in Durban. "In Australia we don't do it, I know that for a fact. I know all the curators in Australia would tell us where to go if we asked to suggest to take all the grass off it to make it spin more.

"Both teams are going to have to play on it, they're a quality team and we're just going to have to assess the conditions and go from there.

"It's the same for both sides, not like its changing between innings. I'm expecting flatter wickets than they had for the India series, especially with the bowling attacks floating around, they're probably the best in the world, in my eyes, going head to head, so it's going to be one hell of a series, that's for sure."

Given the pace bowling resources of the two sides, Lyon said he was expecting the cricket to be somewhat more vibrant than the attritional brand seen during the recent Ashes series. "If you look at both sides, there's going to be times in the game where patience is going to play a massive role, but there's going to be times where both bowling attacks are going at their batters and their bowlers are going to be going at our batters," Lyon said.

"It's going to be big moments in the game where you're going to assess them and try to either come out on top in those big moments or try to minimise the damage in those big moments. It's just about identifying those things as quickly as possible. One thing Australia will do is pay South Africa a lot of respect. They are one hell of a side, so it's going to be a great series, but it's just about trying to identify those big moments in a big series and either minimise them or maximise them when they're going well for us."

Lyon's confidence in Australia's ability to play the "big moments" well has been enhanced by the way the team has rebuilt since losing to South Africa at home in 2016-17. "I think the whole Australian side is in a better place," Lyon said.

"There's been a big change since the last time South Africa were out in Australia and you've got to give them credit, they totally outplayed us in our own conditions, which didn't really go down well with myself personally or the whole side. I know we've spoken about coming over here and really enjoyed coming over here in the last couple of series I've been over here, had some success, but we're not going to take that for granted. We're not expecting automatic success.

"My bowling doesn't change too much, I am very confident in my stock ball at the moment and in my consistency, so I am not going to be changing too much," Lyon said. "It is going to be a great challenge for myself coming up against some of the best batters in the world. To be honest with you I think the best batsmen face me every day in the nets. Bowling to Smithy every day, the number one batsman in the world, trying to take you down."

In 2011, Lyon was playing in only his second series after his debut in Sri Lanka. He duly lived through the traumas of Australia's violent defeat in Cape Town, then played a vital role opposite the emergent Pat Cummins in Johannesburg with the ball, before being the most nervous man at the Wanderers as the teenaged Cummins clumped the winning runs to square the series.

"The way he worked over a couple of the best batsmen in the world he had a pretty amazing Test debut," Lyon said. "But Pat is a totally different bowler now. He's smarter but he's just as quick. He uses his bouncer a lot more efficiently.

"In my eyes, Pat is one of the best bowlers in the world. He's quick and he hits that length but he is an X-factor as well. His whole game as an athletic player in the field and his batting is going from strength to strength. He is working his way up to being the complete player in my eyes. It's exciting times for Pat."