Boyce holds his own in Big Bash whirl
The Big Bash League, more than ever before, is ripe for a spot of national-selection hysteria.
There is a World T20 just months away. The competition is live on a channel that everyone in Australia with a TV has access to, and in front of vast crowds at stadiums almost everyone can afford to visit. With just two overseas players per team, every side is packed with young Australians. And, almost comically, there's a national selector sat in the commentary box, spending his summer evenings being goaded by his colleagues into divulging state secrets, and revealing who sits where in the increasingly congested pecking order. Mark Waugh, it is fair to say, is not always a master of keeping his cards close to his chest.
Each game heralds a different dish of the day. One brief passage of play is enough to catapult one player into social media's must-pick territory - just ask Travis Head - and another out of the reckoning - see Sean Abbott. The stocks of Alex Ross and his various sweeps and AJ Tye and his eight slower balls have risen rapidly and, surely, if the BBL is to mean anything, then Chris Lynn is a lock. Yet Australia's World T20 picture is complicated by its Test players, like Steven Smith and David Warner, who operate beyond the BBL - the latter is not even attached to a club - but are bound to be involved. In one of his more candid moments, Waugh admitted the squad was perhaps "three-quarters"; a conservative estimate would say there are 30 players jostling for position to join Smith, Warner and the rest on the flight to India.
It was Kevin Pietersen who wisely tweeted last week: "So much chat about how many Aussie players could be in T20 WC squad… remember it's in India. You have to be able to play spin!" While such a comment will hearten Shane Watson and his fine IPL record, it is also worth flipping; Australia will have to be able to bowl spin, too.
Spin has been a conspicuous feature of this year's BBL, with fingerspin regularly used to stall starts in the Powerplay, and wristspin employed to stymie progress later in the innings. Adil Rashid, at the time of writing, sits atop the wicket-takers' list, and impressive performances, at various stages, have come from Michael Beer, Adam Zampa, Nathan Lyon and, of course, the ageless Brag Hogg. Indeed it only took two deliveries from the Brisbane Heat leggie Mitch Swepson on debut to set tongues - and Shane Warne's tweeting fingers - wagging. Lyon is expected to travel to India, and Glenn Maxwell will bowl his part-timers. But Australia will need one more spinner.
Into this hazy equation steps Cameron Boyce.
Between World Cups, T20 squads are disparate, brief, often experimental things, so you would be forgiven for forgetting that Boyce not only played in Australia's last T20, against England in Cardiff in August, but that he has ghosted in to become something of a fixture, playing Australia's last five T20s, every single one since the last World T20 two years ago. His most recent effort - when he travelled all the way to the UK to bowl a single over, which Moeen Ali spanked for 19 - notwithstanding, he has impressed.
This season, Hobart Hurricanes have been plagued by inconsistency, but Boyce has continually impressed. He has 11 wickets at 19 each, and while his economy rate (8.28) took a battering in the solitary game he failed to take a wicket in, when the Melbourne Stars romped to victory, Tim Paine has always had a strike bowler to call upon in the middle overs. Boyce has only bowled one over in the Powerplay, and hasn't figured beyond the 17th over.
"I really look to keep things simple and attack in the middle of the innings," Boyce tells ESPNcricinfo. "I'm always thinking about how I can take my next wicket and I'm an attacking option. I try to get at the stumps and spin the ball as hard as I can.
"I love the expectation on me to take wickets. I'm an attacking spinner and doing what I do you know that the batters are gonna come after you and even in the toughest conditions when we're under the pump I don't like to go into my shell or die wondering."
Boyce puts his fine campaign down to his off-season; no, not that 33,000 km round trip to England, but Australia A's tour of India, where he further got to grips with the conditions he could experience in the World T20, as well as playing two 50-over triangular games, taking five wickets at 16. "Leading into that tour," he says, "I didn't feel I was bowling that well, but it was good to get over there and just get through some work and get in some nice hard training.
"I've been over there [India] a few times now and I reckon as a bowler you can come to expect a bit too much of yourself because people associate Indian wickets with spinners and expect them to take wickets. I did learn a lot from that, not only just from my bowling, but also from how a team and a balanced attack works and about how I can contribute best."
A standout aspect of Boyce's BBL has been the quality of players he has dismissed and the match-turning spells he bowled in each of Hurricanes' three victories. In the second fixture against Brisbane Heat, he dismissed Lynn (on 101) to seal the game, and against Sydney Thunder, his 2 for 24, including the wicket of Andre Russell, put the brakes on what had looked a comfortable chase. The ability to dismiss the competition's best players at key moments should not be underestimated; Chris Gayle and Aaron Finch were running amok, smashing him for three boundaries, but he responded with both their wickets. Brad Haddin, Nic Maddinson and Adam Voges are also among his 11 scalps.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous when someone like Gayle is getting after me!" he laughs. "I turned to George [Bailey], and he said 'he's going to try to hit you straight', so I just pulled my length back just a tiny bit, spun it as hard as possible, so if he was going to go straight, he'd have to hit it absolutely perfectly."
Moments later, Boyce says he'd be "lying" if he said he didn't have half an eye on another trip to India. "I love bowling to these guys. To be able to test yourself against blokes like this is awesome and the BBL has proved it's a great place for that. Hopefully it's something I'm doing more in the near future."