If you adhere to the talk that has preceded the cricket in the coming three-Test series between Australia and South Africa, it would not be unreasonable to assume it’s been distilled down to some sort of glorified super over.
The battle of the speedsters. Green-tinged wickets prepared especially to facilitate a fast-bowlers’ shoot-out. A verbal game of ‘our pace attack’s faster than yours’.
And if the likely role of batsmen the stature and calibre of Michael Clarke, Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers (all with individual Test scores of 250-plus to their names) has been downplayed if not airbrushed completely, then spare a thought for Australia’s specialist spinner Nathan Lyon.
Come the back end of the Ashes series, he was enjoying the highest profile of his in-again, out-again Test career. He was also being treated for RSI of his vocal chords, such was the regularity and the gusto with which he led the team’s victory song.
But since arriving in South Africa more than a week ago, Lyon has found himself about as obvious and effective as the Gauteng sunshine.
Even the under-prepared practice pitches at Centurion, the venue for the first Test beginning next Wednesday, offered so much to the fast bowlers that ruffled batsmen were making haste to the adjacent net in which Lyon was bowling in search of respite rather than touch against the turning ball.
But the 26-year-old, whose 19 wickets at less than 30 in the recent Ashes summer represented the most successful series in his 30-Test career, isn’t at all fussed by his comparative anonymity.
“I’m more than happy to fly under the radar,” Lyon said yesterday when asked if all the speculation about conditions favouring the seamers was becoming a little tiresome to him.
“My theory is if it (the pitch) seams, then it spins.
“I’m going to have to play a vital role in these Test matches and I’m pretty excited about it.”
Indeed, while the likelihood of a pitch at Centurion that is fast-bowler friendly by reputation and possibly under-prepared due to recent poor weather has already led to speculation that Australia might opt for an all-pace attack in the first Test, Lyon is happy to see green, seaming decks.
As a former curator by trade, he knows that if the pitches offer lively conditions for the quicks then they are also bound to play to his strengths.
What he won’t be doing is firing the ball in, going for speed rather than spin if the South African batsmen take a leaf from the Australians’ Ashes playbook and go after the slow bowler.
“If there’s bounce in the pitch, then one of my biggest weapons is my bounce,” he said. “If they’re attacking me, I’m more chance of getting a wicket.
“So I’m not going to bowl faster, I might as well come off the long run if that was the case.
“It’s up to me to stick my strengths, and my strengths are getting some spin and some bounce.”