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News Analysis

'Who does that? Scott Boland does. Our ancestors stand proud with him'

An extraordinary spell earned the debutant the Johnny Mullagh Medal on an historic day

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
On Boxing Day, Scott Boland spoke about wanting to be a role model for Indigenous youngsters after becoming the just the fourth Indigenous player, and second male, to represent Australia in Test cricket.
Cricket Australia's Indigenous advisory chair Justin Mohamed noted on the same day that young Indigenous Australians hadn't had enough cricketing heroes to look up to, in the same way that Cathy Freeman had inspired athletes at the 2000 Olympics, or Patty Mills had the NBA, or the many footballers had in the various winter codes in Australia.
December 28 at the MCG wasn't quite Australia's Cathy Freeman moment, when a nation collectively held its breath for 49.11 seconds as Freeman glided around the Sydney Olympic stadium to claim 400-metre gold and become a national legend that crossed cultural divides.
However, Boland's 6 for 7 in 24 balls to seal the Ashes for Australia will be talked about years to come and could inspire cricketers of all backgrounds, but most importantly Indigenous players who have been badly under-represented in Australia's ranks over nearly 145 years of Test cricket.
Boland received a standing ovation when he was presented with the Johnny Mullagh medal as Player of the Match for the Boxing Day Test. The significance wasn't lost on anyone. Mullagh, whose birth name was Unaarrimin, was the stand-out star of Australia's first touring cricket team to England in 1868 taking 245 wickets at 10. But that all-Aboriginal side did not receive Test or even first-class status. Mullagh's only official first-class game came for Victoria in 1878. He also served as a professional for the Melbourne Cricket Club in 1869-70 but was only inducted into Australian cricket's hall of fame in 2020.
Boland has a direct link to Mullagh, having been part of an Indigenous team that toured England in 2018 to celebrate the 150-year anniversary of the first tour. After receiving the commemorative medal which is crafted from an original belt buckle from that tour, Boland spoke of what it meant to him.
"It's something I'm very proud of now," Boland said. "I've had some messages from some mates and guys like Dan Christian, D'Arcy Short, just saying congratulations and really telling me to enjoy the moment so it's really nice to get messages off those guys who were on the tour with me three years ago when we went to England."
Boland only discovered his heritage in the last seven years but the quietly spoken Victorian understands what it means to have an Indigenous cricketer starring on the international stage.
"I've never had a crowd behind me like that. I tried to soak it up when I was at down fine leg"
Scott Boland
"I can see how big Aboriginals are in the AFL and NRL [Australia's major football codes]," Boland said. "So hopefully this can be a moment and together with the Big Bash and D'Arcy Short, Ash Gardner and Dan Christian, hopefully, that could be sort of like a springboard for young Aboriginals to get involved in the game of cricket."
The moment had greater significance for Belinda Duarte, a Wotjobaluk woman, an MCG Trustee, and a descendant of Yanggendyinanyuk (Dick-a-Dick) who was part of the 1868 first XI with Mullagh.
Duarte presented Boland with the Mullagh medal and was in tears as she spoke about what his performance meant to Aboriginal people.
"When he was taking the wickets that he was I was extraordinarily emotional," Duarte said. "Because I had many people, many Aboriginal people texting me, willing and wanting not only for his story to be told but the story about our people to be told as a part of cricket.
"It's important to understand why it's emotional and the origins of that first XI, what they were living at the time. What our families were experiencing, the enslavement, the prison submissions and reserves, the racism, and a space in which they learned cricket for four years in which they could be trailblazers.
"This is a story that is not well known, and it should be etched in every Australian's heart. It's something for us to collectively be extraordinarily proud of.
"Who debuts and just does that? Who does that? Scott Boland does. And our ancestors stand proud with him."
As Boland scythed his way through England's dismal batting line-up he also become an instant cult hero in the manner that Merv Hughes had at the MCG. Boland equalled the fastest five-wicket haul in Test history, completing it in just 19 deliveries. His 6 for 7 were the second-best figures for any six-wicket haul ever taken. The infamous Bay 13 and half the Southern Stand were bowing down in unison and chanting his name. They even booed Pat Cummins when the captain moved Boland away from their adoration at fine leg into the ring at square leg.
"I've never played in front of a crowd that's been so supportive of me like that," Boland said. "I've played in a couple of games in the Big Bash where the crowds have been big here at the MCG, but I've never had a crowd behind me like that. I tried to soak it up when I was at down fine leg. I really enjoyed it. It felt like they were sort of pushing me in when I was running it to bowl."

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo