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Boland 'trying to push' to get a spot in Boxing Day XI as selection dilemma continues

With Hazlewood pressing his claims to return, will selectors be forced to make a tough call for the second Test?

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
23-Dec-2022
Scott Boland doesn't yet know if he will play the Boxing Day Test. It seems Australia's selectors aren't sure either.
Boland returned to the setup on Friday, just three days out from the start of the second Test against South Africa, refreshed after spending some time at home with his family. He was absent from Thursday's optional training session at Junction Oval where Josh Hazlewood continued to press his claims to return to the XI following the side strain that kept him out of Australia's last two Tests, in Adelaide and Brisbane.
But before Boland even had a chance to check in with coach Andrew McDonald, he fronted the media to answer questions as to when he would find out whether he was playing or not.
"Either after training tomorrow, or Christmas Day, or maybe even the morning of the game, I'm not sure," Boland said. "I've spent the last few days at home, it's been really nice. I just got back into the camp this morning. I haven't heard a thing. Obviously, I'm really hoping that I get to play. I think we've got a couple of big training sessions over the next couple of days."
Australia's selectors have a headache. McDonald, fellow selector Tony Dodemaide, and captain Pat Cummins sat on drinks coolers next to the MCG nets to discuss the dilemma briefly while the training session took place.
Boland had a brief bowl off a short run as well as a bat while Hazlewood was not at training. But nothing can be read into his absence, given that Mitchell Starc, David Warner, Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne were also absent.
It is highly unlikely the selectors would leave the decision until match day. Boland was told he would debut on Christmas Eve last year and a decision will almost certainly be made after Australia's compulsory session on Saturday where all of the bowlers will bowl.
At the start of the home summer against West Indies, there was no debate among the selectors. Cummins himself said such was the stability that they could have picked the XI 12 months prior, and the pecking order of the quicks was very clear cut. Hazlewood was preferred alongside Starc and Cummins with Boland carrying the drinks. But Hazlewood's second side strain in 12 months, in his third Test in 24, has created a level of doubt.
"At the start of the summer I was probably fourth in line and now sort of trying to push to hopefully get a spot on Boxing Day"
Scott Boland
Previously, if he had declared himself fit, he and his 217 Test wickets would have waltzed back into the team without any questions asked. But Boland's rise over the last 12 months has the selectors second-guessing themselves. They freely admit they actually made a mistake when they selected Boland for last year's Boxing Day Test against England. He was picked on the basis that he was an MCG flat-deck specialist, readymade for the back-breaking work of 50 overs of bashing a length on a lifeless pitch, just as he has done for Victoria in 27 matches there over a decade.
But Boland took 6 for 7 on one of the grassiest and spiciest MCG Test tracks ever produced. And since then, on a mix of surfaces in Sydney, Hobart, Adelaide and Brisbane, he has taken 25 wickets and maintained a staggering Test average of 10.36, and an economy rate of 2.05. He has been a metronomic machine for Cummins to turn to at any time, fitting seamlessly into an attack that has won four of the five Tests he has played. In the only drawn Test of those five, in Sydney against England, his absence for part of day five through soreness was keenly felt to the point where Australia were unable to take the tenth wicket.
Boland has again been magnificent in his only two Test appearances this summer and now the man himself senses that he has potentially moved up in the pecking order.
"At the start of the summer I was probably fourth in line and now sort of trying to push to hopefully get a spot on Boxing Day," Boland said.
Boland is hoping for a similar pitch to what was served up at Christmas last year, although such a surface may play against his selection chances.
McDonald had a long conversation with MCG curator Matt Page in the middle on Friday as he inspected the 22 yards. Page has already gone on record suggesting he probably wouldn't leave as much grass on it as last year. But there was a healthy enough covering, without the same thickness, for the most recent Sheffield Shield match played there between Victoria and Tasmania and the bowlers still held sway in an entertaining game.
"I think it's been a really good contest between bat and ball," Boland said of the new and improved MCG pitch over recent years. "Hopefully that continues. Pagey does a great job here with the wicket. I think through the World Cup it looked like some wickets had some really good pace in it.
"And when it's like that it's a good contest between bat and ball. If you bat really well you can score runs and if you're putting the ball in a good area all the time you're always in the game."
Another sporting MCG pitch could help Boland get his Test bowling average under 10, as his team-mates constantly rib him when it climbs above double figures.
"Yeah, they do. It's pretty funny," Boland said. "They bring it up every now and again. Especially while we're out in the field."
But for that, he would need to be selected. And for that, he will have to wait until Christmas to get the present he is after.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo