Dukes-ready Boland could be the perfect man for English conditions

WTC 2021-23 - most wickets for Australia
June 06, 2023

Scott Boland's place in Australia's attack for the World Test Championship final against India is nothing less than he deserves. But it was very close to not happening.

The selectors have, understandably, taken a cautious approach with Josh Hazlewood. Had he been just a little more ready, or if a five-match Ashes did not follow this Test, it's highly likely he would have been in the XI.

And, with a Test record that reads 222 wickets at 25.83, he would have been worthy of his spot.

However, Boland is currently very worthy of every opportunity he gets. With a green tinge to The Oval pitch, Boland feels like a bowler ideally suited to the conditions. Along with Pat Cummins, he caused Australia's batters some uneasy moments in the nets on Monday.

"In Australia, you can get passages of play where the Kookaburra doesn't do much and the wicket is quite flat," Cummins said. "In the past here in England, because the ball does talk a little more, I've seen players get too caught up in trying to take wickets every ball because you've suddenly got the ball swinging and seaming. Think someone like Scotty, it's just a really simple gameplan: you hit your good areas and you stay there all day and hopefully the ball will do the work for you. He's had a few bowls over here now and has looked good, but he looks good whenever he bowls."

This Test will be Boland's first game of first-class cricket in England (he has only played two first-class games outside Australia), and the first time he has bowled with the Dukes ball. For a bowler of his skillset that is a somewhat surprising statistic. He did not feature in the Australia A side which toured in 2019 despite 48 wickets at 19.66 the preceding season.

His only previous experience in the UK was with the Aboriginal side which toured in 2018. Boland, who is becoming a hugely significant figure in Australian cricket, is one of just two indigenous male Test cricketers alongside Jason Gillespie.

A number of counties enquired about his services for a pre-Ashes stint this season, but Boland declined, instead wanting to bowl the majority of his deliveries for Victoria and Australia.

Peter Siddle, who played in the 2019 Ashes and will once again be a domestic team-mate of Boland's next season having returned to Victoria, believes he has all the attributes to be handful.

"All I said to him was, 'you don't have to change too much'," Siddle told Cricday. "I think his bowling and style is very much already suited to bowling with the Dukes. And I think the other big factor, like I've said to the boys for years coming over here before Ashes series, is don't get too carried away with the swing.

"Scotty is consistent, bowls good lines and lengths, bangs away there all day, and keeps you under pressure, every delivery, and he's going to do the same with the Dukes. But this time, he's going to get a little bit more assistance. I'm excited to see him do his thing. Firstly, the Test final, but I think he'll have a big part of the play throughout this Ashes series. Because he's going to be very well suited to these conditions. And I think he's going to do well."

He expects Boland to make extensive use of the wobble-seam delivery, which Siddle learnt from his time in county cricket and picking the brains of Stuart Broad.

"We've spoken a lot about it," Siddle said. "Scotty's been doing that with the Kookaburra for a couple of years now. So now he'll use that a lot throughout this series. It definitely works wonders over here. Especially when you're trying to seam the ball. You'll see that used a lot."

Boland's last Test outing, in Nagpur, was the first wicketless match of his career and saw his average balloon to 13.42 - for a while during his first two home summers, which began with that magical debut at the MCG against England, it was a bit of a game-within-a-game to see how long he could keep it below 10.

Australia are in a fortunate position when Boland is not yet a first pick in the XI when everyone is fit. It makes you wonder when he might be elevated into that position.

When Hazlewood returned from injury against South Africa in Sydney earlier this year, he was asked whether the established order of Australia's fast bowlers would mean he slotted back in. And so it transpired with him playing as one of just two quicks. He justified it, too, with five wickets in the match.

Cummins said that Boland was "very close" to pushing himself into Australia's first three on merit but added that there wasn't a pecking order among the senior quicks.

"I think we're big on kind of everyone bowls slightly differently," he said. "Even Scott is a seam bowler on a good length but he just offers something slightly different to, say, Joshy Hazlewood, and obviously Starcy [Mitchell Starc] being a left-hander is bit different. So I don't think there's ever a pecking order. You think about kind of the three guys that you want to go out and play."

The fact that Boland, right now, is Australia's fourth quick could well be a key element in deciding the Ashes. Both sides are going to need their bowling depth and England's is already being tested. Cummins wants to be able to field a side where all his quicks can bowl as much as needed without thoughts of what comes next.

"That's the luxury of having bench strength," he said. "Hoff [Hazlewood] was really close to being available for this one so he'll be available for the first [Ashes] Test. Nes [Michael Neser], you see how well he's been doing in county cricket. Sean Abbott's here, so I'm sure we'll be calling on a lot of resources. And you don't want to finish off a Test match with something in the tank knowing that you've got other guys fresh that you could bring in a few days later."

With inputs from Alex Malcolm

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