Top spinner … Nathan Lyon. Photo: Getty Images
AN EARLY meeting between the Australians and the Gabba groundsman has given Nathan Lyon the inside alley for the first Test, but coach Mickey Arthur will reserve the right to brandish four quicks following the withdrawal of Shane Watson.
Watson's absence with a calf injury takes significant punch out of the top order but also increases the temptation for the Australians to roll into Brisbane with four fast bowlers in an effort to compensate for Watson's ever-useful seamers.
Despite an indifferent start to the season, Lyon remains firm favourite to play against the South Africans on Friday, with a spin-friendly pitch tipping the odds in his favour providing there are no surprises in the Brisbane weather over coming days.
Arthur, Cricket Australia performance manager Pat Howard and Michael Clarke met with curator Kevin Mitchell jnr on Monday and were left with the distinct impression a slow bowler would be an invaluable asset in the latter days of the Test.
''We're pretty confident we're going to get a very, very good Gabba wicket, which increases the likelihood of us playing a spinner,'' Arthur said.
But the Gabba can only be friendly to a degree when it comes to finger spinners, most of whom have a decidedly average record on a ground that more often than not showcases the work of the express men, swing practitioners and bowlers named 'Shane Warne'.
Arthur gave Lyon emphatic backing but kept all of his options open ahead of the first Test in Brisbane between the sides since 1963.
''It's all up for grabs. We might change. The weather might play a role. Things could change and we go with an all-pace attack,'' Arthur said. ''As it stands, we'd like to play a spinner. There's four quicks probably going for three positions. We've got a lot of depth in that area and we feel we've got the seam bowling covered.''
Matthew Hayden has been among those calling for Lyon to carry the drinks but Arthur went to pains to reinforce Lyon's position at the top of the spin-bowling hierarchy.
The former Adelaide Oval groundsman took seven wickets in Brisbane against the Black Caps last summer and has a very tidy record of 42 wickets at 27.83 in his 13 Test matches.
But he was tonked around the Gabba by the Bulls to the tune of 2/128 in his most recent visit and his six wickets in the current Shield season have been eked out at the princely sum of 68.
Arthur senses Lyon needs a mental lift and is hoping his entry into the Australian environment and vigorous public embellishment will provide the boost needed to be a factor against a top order that has the capacity to dine out on below-par spinners.
''Nathan's gone ok. Any guy that's averaging 24 over 13 or 14 Test matches can bowl. We've never, ever doubted Nathan's ability,'' Arthur said.