Two Tests into Australia's summer, Nathan Lyon's position appeared to be in jeopardy. The interim chairman of selectors, Trevor Hohns, hinted ahead of the Adelaide Test against South Africa that had Steve O'Keefe not suffered a calf injury shortly before the squad was selected, he may well have taken the place of the struggling Lyon. Fast forward four Tests and Lyon is earning nothing but praise from within the Australian camp.
If he was not exactly a match-winner at the SCG, he was at least a very valuable contributor, picking up five wickets in the victory. And with a four-Test tour of India beginning next month, Australia's selectors are pleased to see Lyon returning to something close to his best. At the SCG, he often bowled in tandem with left-armer O'Keefe in what could be a preview of Australia's spin attack for the India tour.
"I thought Nathan was very good in Melbourne and brilliant in this Test match," coach and selector Darren Lehmann said. "That's the best he's bowled for a long period of time. I think he'll admit that. He used his variation really well, bowled well to right and left-handers, bowled over and around, and chopped and changed, which was really pleasing.
"Sometimes he gets into the one way, he just wants to bowl over the wicket all the time. He was exceptional in this game and bowled really well. I'm looking forward to that sort of combination going to India."
Ashton Agar, who was part of Australia's squad for the Sydney Test but was not included in the XI, also has a strong chance of being picked in the touring party. However, Lehmann also said that Victoria's spin-bowling allrounder Glenn Maxwell would be another contender for a place in what is likely to be an expanded squad to cover for all eventualities.
"He'll certainly come under consideration with India coming up," Lehmann said on ABC Radio on Saturday morning. "We know he plays spin bowling well and offers that extra dimension, and is a gun fielder. We want to see him make runs, and he's had a reasonable start to the BBL. That's the challenge for him, to keep going, and then hopefully [earn a place] in the one-day squad."
Whichever spinners make the cut for Australia, they will need quickly to work out that bowling in India requires a very different approach compared to Australian pitches that offer plenty of bounce. Although Lyon was Australia's leading wicket-taker on the 2013 tour of India, with 15 at 37.33, he had been dropped after leaking runs in the first Test in Chennai.
"Nathan Lyon, at the moment, I think he is bowling very well," Pakistan's captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, said. "But if you compare Australian conditions with the Indian conditions, or any Asian conditions, there is difference of bounce, which normally spinners get in Australia. That's why I think when our spinners come here, it is difficult for them because they have to get used to these conditions and utilize that bounce in their favour.
"When the bowlers from here go to Asia, they find it difficult to utilize these sort of turning tracks, because there, under-cutter bowlers who bowl quicker are effective. Bowlers who bowl overspin and bowl slower normally get thrashed. It will be difficult for them. I think they can [do well], it's about adjusting yourself to the conditions. The biggest challenge will be India's strong batting line-up. They're batting beautifully in their own conditions."
Australia's batsmen will also face a significant challenge in India. The squad will spend two weeks in Dubai ahead of the tour, training on turning pitches at the ICC's Academy and playing an unofficial three-day game there in an effort to acclimatise to Asian conditions. They then head to Mumbai for a tour match ahead of the first Test in Pune, which begins from February 23.
"It'll be a pretty tough camp," Lehmann said of the Dubai leg of the journey. "Batting long periods of time is going to be the key. I think Alastair Cook summed it up really well on their tour, where they didn't bat long enough. They got decent scores but still didn't bat long enough. That's going to be a challenge for the group.
"We batted 135 overs in this first innings - we need to bat 150-plus in India, to post a big, big total. It's a great challenge for the group going forward. They're fit and strong, so they should be able to bat long periods of time."