Portrait of Sydney Sixers bowler Nathan Lyon.

Pragmatic: Nathan Lyon has never been allowed to feel secure. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Had the strip of worn grass the Lyon brothers used as their backyard pitch been pancake-flat rather than sloping, the chances are the man proclaimed Australia's new king of spin would be a tradesman ''doing something outdoors'' in the central west of NSW.

Nathan Lyon, who celebrated his 100th Test wicket milestone and coming of age as a Test player during the Ashes clean sweep, said not having the muscle as a child needed to bowl up the slope in their small Young backyard encouraged him to embrace off-spin.

''I can't hit the ball off the square, I can't bowl fast, I had to do something,'' he joked about the reason behind his early penchant for spin. ''My brother Brendan bowled leg-spin and I wanted to do something bigger and better than him so I bowled off-spin - and it's paid off so far.

''Ours was a small backyard with a slope so Brendan always bowled the ball so it spun down the hill. I was never strong enough to spin it up the hill so I had to go off-spin so I could turn it back down the hill to him.''

Lyon proved he possessed the pragmatic nature that seems to characterise true spin bowlers when it was suggested his fortunes may perhaps have been different had it not been for the topography of the backyard. ''Lucky it sloped,'' he said drily without giving the idea much thought.

Lyon was the last man standing after Cricket Australia's selectors turned the spin bowler's position in the Test team into its own version of the Hunger Games. In the years since Shane Warne retired the selectors had called upon - and discarded - the likes of Brad Hogg, Beau Casson, Cameron White, Jason Krejza, Nathan Hauritz, Bryce McGain, Steve Smith, Xavier Doherty and Michael Beer, although, as Krejza - who took 13 scalps in his two appearances in the baggy green - noted before the Ashes series started, Lyon had never been allowed to feel secure.

''It's not so much the comparison to [Warne], it's not knowing if you are considered the best,'' Krejza said of the spin bowler's dilemma. ''It's the feeling of not being good enough; doesn't matter if a spin bowler gets six wickets, he still seems to need to ask if that's OK.''

Lyon said the view was valid and he attributed it to the massive shadow Warne cast when he ruled the roost. ''Yeah, it's probably thanks to Shane Warne and the way he held himself and carried himself,'' Lyon said of Krejza's take on the trade. ''It comes down to what Shane left. People have expectations that a spinner needs to do everything on the last couple days on a wearing pitch [where] I believe a spinner needs to hold an end and reverse swing can play a major role in Australia.

''[Warne's are] massive shoes to fill, it's a big challenge and a challenge I enjoy. I'll never fill them, but if I can do my job that I'm happy with, and, more importantly, the captain is happy with, then hopefully things will continue to go well. It's been an enjoyable ride [getting to where I am], it's been challenging but I've always thrived on challenges and it's been great to get some reward, being a member of a Test team that defeated England 5-0.''

He also knows that as Australia's No.1 spin bowler he wears a target on his back. The fact Cricket Australia appealed for the government to fast-track Pakistani Fawad Ahmed's citizenship application so he could participate on the last tour of England sent Lyon the message he can't afford to to relax.

''I know where I sit,'' he said. ''Rather than trying to hunt down the No.1 spinner I know I'm the hunted. Everyone wants to play for Australia but the challenge makes me train harder, play harder and play for my spot.''

His childhood in Young instilled the toughness required to weather the challenge. He played his first A-grade game in club cricket at just 12 years of age and he recalled how the men gave him no leeway.

''They bowled fast, they didn't let me off easy just because I was a kid,'' he said.

''But that allowed for my skill to develop quicker than most kids, it made me tougher because I had to compete against their skills and I had to find a way to fight back and it's been a huge help.''

And his learning to mix it on the matted wickets as a Young kid in a man's world could well be the key to why Lyon survived the spin cycle when others were chewed up and spat out.