Doug the Rug rewarded for hard labour
Doug the Rug almost became Rugless Douglas when his team-mates mobbed him to celebrate his first five-wicket haul in a Test. His year-old head of hair was rubbed, ruffled and nearly ripped from his scalp in a show of genuine affection from a team that has been entertained by Doug Bollinger's antics for a couple of years.
Bollinger raises the spirits of his team-mates with a unique brand of exuberance and buffoonery, but those traits make it easy to overlook his incredible patience and drive. A holiday visa would have been more appropriate than a work permit for most of the recent touring he's done - he has been on Test trips to India, the West Indies and South Africa without looking like breaking into the team - except that he never stopped toiling behind the scenes.
In that situation, some players would bring the mood down with their frustration; Bollinger improves the vibe. In South Africa he made his team-mates laugh when he responded to taunts from the crowd in a tour match by yelling back and calling his heckler "ya nuffy", and during the Champions Twenty20 League he told his state colleagues his new rug of hair had startled him by sliding off his head during the night and appearing on the pillow next to him in the morning.
Mention his name to any of the Australian players and you'll be met with a knowing smile, a raise of the eyebrows and the words "ah yes, Dougie". Their appreciation of his efforts at the WACA after his fifth wicket culminated in him kissing the ball and raising it to the crowd, after he'd earlier celebrated his third breakthrough by kissing the badge on his shirt. When asked why he'd done it, he shrugged and joked: "I dunno mate, I think I just done it. I saw someone else do it."
Bollinger was actually embarrassed when he raised the ball, as he simply didn't know what else to do. The moment must truly have meant something to him, for he is not a man to embarrass easily. But all the years of hard work, from the times when as a child in western Sydney he carried a cricket ball with him and shined it at school, to when he was toiling at state level in a team boasting Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Stuart Clark and Nathan Bracken, it all came to a head when he found Gavin Tonge's edge.
That gave him 5 for 70, his best haul in a three-Test career. It will also give the selectors some decisions to make when all four of their young fast men are fit - Bollinger, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus. They won't all squeeze into one attack but Bollinger's aggressive approach gives him some chance to keep his place.
When he kicked the turf in annoyance at not getting an lbw decision last week in Adelaide, he was reprimanded by the match referee, but it showed a passion that impressed the team management. He runs in faster than any of the other quick bowlers, partly out of enthusiasm and partly because he wants so badly to attack the batsmen. He likes to use the term "bash away" to describe his bowling style.
He hits the mid to high 140kph region and can swing the ball, but it's just as often his angle and subtle variations that get him his wickets. Three of his five in Perth were pushed across right-handers, who drove at the ball and were caught. He loves bowling at the WACA, where three weeks ago he grabbed eight wickets in a Sheffield Shield match having just missed out on a place in the Gabba Test.
It was a familiar feeling for Bollinger, who went on Test tours of India, the West Indies and South Africa without winning a place in the team. His debut came at the SCG in January, but he had to wait nearly a year for his second opportunity. Bollinger said it wasn't that hard for him to stay upbeat despite the lost opportunities.
"There's going to be times when you go, geez I wish I was playing, but you've just got to realise where you are and what you're doing," he said. I've been out of the team and when you get back in the team it's the best buzz in the world. When you're not playing there's things I can work on in my game, so especially bowling in India and South Africa, different wickets and different situations, there's always something to do."
At 28, he's the oldest of the new quartet of key fast bowlers, though he's had the fewest chances. Performances like this will help ensure he gets many more, although he's not staying awake at night wondering if he'll keep his spot when Siddle and Hilfenhaus return.
"That's the last thing I need to think about," Bollinger said. "If I start thinking too much about selections and having to get wickets every time I play, I'll just go insane."
For now, he'll just settle for slightly mad.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo