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Brisbane clouds clear for Cummins and Lyon

Pat Cummins roars in appeal for an lbw against Joe Root Getty Images

It's easy to forget how little long-form cricket Pat Cummins has played. This Test, for example, is just his seventh first-class match in Australia, and his first at the Gabba. He has never played a first-class game at the MCG, or the WACA. In red-ball terms he remains as green as the baggy cap he earned in Johannesburg six years ago.

Likewise, it's easy to overlook just how much Nathan Lyon has now achieved. Yes, we are constantly told he's the GOAT, Australia's greatest-of-all-time offspinner, but he's much more than that. He is this side's most experienced player, the custodian of its team song, and seventh on his country's all-time Test wicket list. Only Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Dennis Lillee, Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee and Craig McDermott sit above him.

And on the first day at the Gabba, these two men with vastly differing stories were Australia's two best bowlers. These two men who both entered Test cricket in 2011, who both claimed five-wicket hauls on debut, who both traditionally enter summer under a cloud. For Lyon it must have seemed a miracle to arrive in Brisbane this year with no speculation over his place in the team. For Cummins, it must have seemed a miracle just to arrive at all.

Cummins has had so many injury setbacks, been placed in so much cotton-wool that for the longest time it felt like he might be a one-Test wonder and a one-day stalwart. But Test tours of India and Bangladesh have made 2017 a year of great progress for him. To see him run in, over after over, spell after spell, on the first day at the Gabba, was highly encouraging. To see him still hitting 145kph late in the second session, and above 140kph late in the day, was a promising sign.

It was Cummins who broke England's best partnership, the 125-run stand - bigger than any England partnership on the 2013-14 tour - between Mark Stoneman and James Vince. Stoneman was living up to his name, proving an immovable rock, but shortly after he fought his way to 150-ball half-century, his stumps were rattled by a quick Cummins delivery that nipped in from around the wicket, shortly before the tea break. Bigger was to come for Cummins. The wicket of Joe Root, trapped lbw by an inswinger for 15 late in the day, was a significant moment.

"In terms of a fast bowler's wicket, it's pretty much the dream wicket," Cummins said. "One of the most satisfying I've ever got. If the ball is swinging, to set him up for a couple of overs without swing and then try and bowl one big inswinger, it probably only comes off one in a hundred times, but when it does, it's a pretty special wicket."

Cummins claimed two of the four wickets that fell on the first day; remarkably, Lyon didn't finish with even one in his bowling figures. For much of the day he looked like Australia's most dangerous man - though not in an ending-careers, scaring-batsmen kind of way. Shane Warne used to say of the Gabba that if it seams, it spins; traditionally the ground was viewed as a venue to suit the fast men, but it was also Warne's most prolific Test ground.

Lyon added a new twist: it wasn't seaming, but it still spun. Despite the earlier wicket of Alastair Cook, Australia's fast men had found little encouragement in the first hour of play - not much swing, even less seam, and lacklustre bounce. So when Steven Smith threw the ball to Lyon less with 40 minutes left in the opening session and saw the first ball turn sharply and skew off Stoneman's leading edge, Australia got excited.

All day Lyon was in the game, turning deliveries past edges, creating doubt in the batsmen's minds, and importantly restricting the runs - his economy rate across 24 overs was 1.66. That he finished with 0 for 40 was not for want of opportunities: Tim Paine dropped a gettable chance off James Vince's edge, and another difficult half-chance flew past the hands of Cameron Bancroft at short-leg off Root's bat.

If Lyon had no reward from his bowling, he still had a significant impact when he snapped up the ball at cover and threw down the stumps at the bowler's end to have Vince run out for 83. Lyon's own miserly bowling had indirectly led to the chance, for Vince and Root were looking for quick singles to tick the score along - and that single simply wasn't there.

"He must be feeling on top of his game," Michael Clarke said on commentary of Lyon, observing that he had never known the spinner to be as vocal as he was in the lead-up to this Test. "He must be full of confidence."

But for all of Lyon's pre-series talk of Australia's fearsome fast bowlers and his invoking the carnage created by Mitchell Johnson four years ago, it was something quite different that kept Australia in the contest on day one at the Gabba. The few short balls sent down by the fast men barely reached head height on a slow surface; instead, Australia stayed in the day through restricting the runs.

Less than 200 in 80 overs, for four wickets? It wasn't exactly fiery, but it was gripping Test cricket. And at the heart of it were two men who have trodden very different paths to be here.