Tougher than the rest: How Nathan Lyon rose above to become a great survivor

For so much of his earlier career, the pub discussions about Nathan Lyon tended to revolve around who should really be the first-choice Test spinner, not why the right-arm tweaker should be given the chance to blossom in a baggy green.

If the post-Gilchrist era was difficult for Australian wicketkeepers, the post-Warne era was equally treacherous for the spin stocks. By the time Lyon made his debut in Adelaide in 2011, four years after Warne's final delivery in Test cricket, there was the ominous feeling he too was warming the seat.

If fans had their doubts, so too did selectors. Dropped twice in 2013 - once in India and then for the first two Ashes Tests in England - Lyon has returned to become one of the great survivors of an unsettled period in Australian cricket. In the first Test in Brisbane, he will likely be one of just three to have graduated from the most recent home Ashes series, with Steve Smith and David Warner making good company.

The knocks have helped shape Lyon into not just a good cricketer, but an excellent one. He's Australia's best-performed off-spinner and for all of the traditional "four quicks in Brisbane" pantomime, the 29-year-old New South Welshman will be one of the first names jotted down on the team sheet.

Lyon doesn't look back on his critics with resentment for he knows that period of scepticism would eventually be the making of him as a player. He was taught to be tough from a young age, he says, and feels immense satisfaction to have weathered more than few storms.

"It's something I'm pretty proud of ... growing up as a kid, Dad always talked to me and my brother about being resilient," he says. "Yeah, you will get knocked down here and there, but it's the way you bounce back and test yourself. That's when you show your true colours and what you're really made of.

"I've been written off plenty of times, but I've kept bouncing back. I plan to keep bouncing back and keep trying to improve, keep enjoying cricket, especially playing for Australia. There's nothing better."

It's a trait Lyon has called on when he's operating on a tough day in the middle as well, and he knows that a bad day in the context of a series can be countered by a good one soon after. While Warner speaks of summoning his emotions to get the best of himself against England, Lyon prefers the opposite.

"You go through tough times, different emotions during a series. If you can be as resilient as possible and try not to play on emotion ... that's the biggest thing. For us, if we can play England on skill, not emotion, in the first Test, it will leave us in good stead. I'm looking forward to hopefully playing a massive role in that."

Lyon enters the series in excellent touch and believes he's bowling better than at any stage of his career. He took 22 wickets in two Tests against Bangladesh and has no concerns about the bouncy track at Woolloongabba where he has 26 wickets at 27 through six Tests.

He was in the thick of things as England collapsed for 136 at the hands of a rampant Mitchell Johnson in 2013, a moment he believes set the narrative for the series as Australian went on to win 5-0.

"It was special when you look back on that series," Lyon says. "Having the same 11 through five Tests was remarkable and to look at that series, full stop, was absolutely incredible. I was very lucky. The Gabba Test was one of the best experiences I've ever had.

"I think the four of us took 6-9 when Mitch Johnson and myself jagged a couple of wickets in the middle of England's first innings. I've never heard a crowd so loud. We really set the tone in that first Test and that's something we'll look to do in Brisbane, set the tone for the Test and hopefully the rest of the summer.

"I'm really confident with the way the ball is coming out, especially coming off the tours of India and Bangladesh. I've been really happy with the way they've been coming out for NSW as well. I'll get my chance to hopefully make a massive mark on this series. That's what I'm aiming to do."

To the summer crowds, Lyon has become so likeable he's now a cult figure, growing more cultish as the schooners start disappearing down the hatch in the afternoon sun. Matthew Wade's cries of "Nice Garry!" may endure well beyond his tenure behind the stumps.

But as a group, Lyon agrees with former captain Steve Waugh that they are a band still looking for a chart-topping hit. Waugh believes this is the perfect opportunity for Smith's side to stand on the prime-time stage and deliver against the old foe.

"Yeah, no doubt," he says. "Any words that come out of Steve Waugh's mouth you take on board. He's spot on, I think. It's a young playing group that hasn't really set the tone yet under Steve Smith. This is a great chance to do that and get in the history books.

"Ian Botham has already come out and said it's one of the worst teams he's seen. There's an opportunity for us to find that belief and win the Ashes and win it quite well. If we do that, play on skill, not emotion, hopefully we can set Australian cricket up for a few years to come."

Lyon has campaigned against England fixtures such as captain Joe Root and Alastair Cook before, but has yet to roll the arm over to some of their newer top and middle order faces such as Mark Stoneman, James Vince and Dawid Malan.

But with Australia's pace stocks in good fettle, especially left-armer Mitchell Starc who recently nuked South Australia with the pink ball to take career-best figures of 8-73, Lyon believes it's going to be a deeply searching arena for the trio, all of whom are yet to play at Test in Australia.

"Bloody oath it is," Lyon says. "That's part of Test match cricket. No matter where you go in the world, it's going to be challenging. But they have some superstar players and some very reliable players in the top four with Cook and Root.

"You look at their bowlers, Jimmy [Anderson] and [Stuart] Broad, they are world class. It's not their first time out here.

"I played against Vince in a Big Bash game. I haven't come across Stoneman yet. In saying that, I've been watching a lot of their Test cricket in the past six months. There's no England player I haven't seen play, either live or on TV.

"You live cricket. You want to watch it and I'm always interested in how other teams are going and the style they are playing, especially England."

This story Tougher than the rest: How Nathan Lyon rose above to become a great survivor first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.