NATHAN LYON insists he won't be intimidated by South Africa's world-class batting line-up or bowling to them on the pace-friendly Gabba for the first Test next month.
Lyon, who hails from the NSW country town of Young but broke into first-class cricket with South Australia, has established himself as the unassuming strike weapon for the national team since making his debut against Sri Lanka last year. His haul of 42 wickets from 13 Tests compares favourably with the great Shane Warne, who snared 47 after the same number of games.
Warne has called for a spin bowler to be named in Australia's final XI for Brisbane after skipper Michael Clarke hinted last week he'd consider unleashing a four-pronged pace attack against the world's No.1 Test nation which boasts four of the top seven batsmen in world cricket.
The 24-year-old Lyon said his experience at the Gabba last year - where he took seven wickets in the Test against New Zealand - proved the pitch was more sophisticated than being a strip simply designed for pace. ''It's a great place to bowl spin at,'' he said. ''We saw in last year's Test match that early on there was some nice spin and good bounce, and I'd look forward to another go at it if I get the nod.''
Lyon has established himself as Australia's ''go to'' spinner after a long list of contenders - Stuart MacGill (10 wickets from four Tests) Brad Hogg (eight from three), Beau Casson (three from one), Cameron White (five from four), Jason Krejza (13 from two), Nathan Hauritz (58 from 16), Bryce McGain (none from one), Steve Smith (three from five), Xavier Doherty (three from two) and Michael Beer (one from one) - were given their shots since Warne retired.
Despite his success - and respectable Test average of 27.83 - Lyon said he couldn't afford to think he'd ended Australia's so-called ''spin cycle''. The point was reinforced recently when Australia's chairman of selectors John Inverarity said Victoria's Jon Holland - who has since been ruled out for the season with a shoulder injury - was a candidate for a baggy green cap.
''I definitely don't believe I've cemented my spot,'' Lyon said. ''I know I have to keep bowling well and improving because there are great spin bowlers around the country. I have to just worry about myself and worry about my performance for South Australia first and keep working hard and things will look after themselves. I'm very lucky. I have a good coaching staff around me at South Australia with Darren Berry and Craig Howard, they do great work with spinners, and John Davison. I trust them a lot and have worked hard with them since the preseason. We keep ticking boxes, like working on a nice stock ball, and we'll see where they go.''
Glenn McGrath told The Sun-Herald the Australian and South African pace attacks were so close the batsmen would ultimately decide the series. While Lyon acknowledged the visitors contained some of the world's best batsmen he repeated the call he made when selected to play India last summer. ''I'm not intimidated mate, you can't be intimidated,'' he said. ''If you do you already have one foot out the back door. I'm definitely not intimidated by the South Africans, it will be a great challenge for me if I'm selected … I would welcome the challenge.''
Lyon received a glimpse of what to expect when as part of the Australian team that drew last November's two-Test series in South Africa. ''It was nice to get a little taste,'' said Lyon who took four wickets in the second Test in Johannesburg.
''But I'm looking at taking up the challenge of bowling to some of the best batsmen in the world. I plan to stick to my strengths and stay strong and put in a good performance. I'm just going to have to bowl patiently. Australia is fortunate enough to have the best bowling attack in the world with James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Mitchell Starc, Ben Hilfenhaus, Pat Cummins and a few others … we have a great bowling attack and we saw over the last summer if someone gets the rewards in one game another enjoys them the next game. We will have to be patient. We will need to put the ball in the right areas and work hard. I have learned a lot about myself and the way I bowled and the way cricket is played at that level. It's an unbelievable challenge to play international cricket but I have enjoyed every second.''