Will Starc play in Delhi? Boland happy to make it tough for the selectors
Starc has started training in Delhi, and if ready, might form Australia's fast-bowling attack with Pat Cummins in the second Test
Scott Boland hopes he has put enough pressure on Australia's selectors to keep his place for the second Test against India in Delhi despite Mitchell Starc's imminent return from a finger injury.
Starc missed the opening Test in Nagpur because of the finger injury he suffered in late December. He remained at home for the start of the tour but has flown into Delhi and will train today on his own. Australia's physical performance coach Aaron Kellett has flown to Delhi to oversee Starc's training while the rest of the team remained in Nagpur to train before travelling to Delhi on Tuesday.
Boland wasn't originally set to play in Nagpur, but Josh Hazlewood's Achilles issue opened the door for him and he bowled 17 overs for just 34 runs in India's innings of 400. He bowled one of the best fast-bowling spells of the match on the second morning, delivering three maidens in six overs and conceding just three runs while bowling to the in-form Rohit Sharma. It came after Australia had conceded 40 runs in the first 13 overs of the morning. His ability to slow the scoreboard down helped Todd Murphy pick up two wickets at the other end.
While Starc looks like a lock to return, having played every Test on the tours of Pakistan and Sri Lanka last year as the second quick alongside Pat Cummins when Australia played two spinners, Boland was hopeful of slotting in.
"I felt like I bowled well, but when you are bringing in someone like Mitchell Starc, who is a gun in these conditions and has bowled really well in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, hopefully I made the selectors job a little bit tougher than what it originally was," Boland said. "In places like here, it is tough to judge [how you went] as a fast bowler but I think I contributed to our game plan and I played my role pretty well.
"I think I had a pretty good spell in conjunction with Toddy a couple of times so I was happy with how the ball came out."
Will Mitchell Starc be ready for Delhi Test?
"Obviously I want to play. I enjoyed the challenge of bowling in these different conditions. I've just got to make the selectors' job as hard as I can to bring someone in," Boland said. "We don't know. I'm not sure. I haven't seen Starcy bowl. I'm not sure if he's going to be right to play. I assume he is if he's over here. I don't think we're going to play three fast bowlers. There's only going to be two spots up for grabs, I reckon."
India were 168 for 5 at one stage in their innings in Nagpur, but Boland bowled just eight overs after that point. He found the outside edge of both Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel early in their innings but neither ball went to hand.
Coach Andrew McDonald did not think Boland was underbowled in the innings despite appearing to be Australia's second-best bowler behind Murphy. "I think it was about right," McDonald said. "I think we wanted to come in with the quicks and use reverse swing. We probably didn't get as much reverse as we thought and nor did they. There wasn't as much reverse on offer but definitely Scott did the role we expected him to do.
"He allowed the spinners to be well-placed, and we knew that we were going to have combinations where Scotty would bowl with the spinner down the other end and there was going to be other periods where the spinners would bowl together. The question for us, was it too similar with two [off] spinners operating in tandem spinning the ball in?"
"I felt like we had a little bit of reverse swing but the ball was so soft and the wicket was so slow through the middle, it was hard to beat the inside edge with the bat"Scott Boland on bowling in Nagpur
Starc's reverse swing threat would be a major temptation for the selectors in Delhi as would his ability to create rough outside the right-hander's off stump when bowling over the wicket, which will significantly aid Murphy and Nathan Lyon, although it would also help R Ashwin.
Boland got a hint of reverse in Nagpur but conceded the ball did not stay hard for long enough for it to be effective. "I felt like we had a little bit of reverse swing but the ball was so soft and the wicket was so slow through the middle, it was hard to beat the inside edge with the bat," he said. "Maybe if we can get reverse swing a little bit earlier we might be able to beat the inside edge, but with the wicket being so slow it was hard work."
He also noted how difficult it was for Australia's slip fielders. Alex Carey stood up to the stumps to Boland for periods, while the edges off Jadeja and Axar did not carry to a regulation slip. Steven Smith was standing unusually close at first slip for the Jadeja edge but could not grasp the near-impossible chance.
"I felt running in that they looked real close," Boland said. "I think I bowled a couple of overs from the other end with the second new ball and I asked Pete [Handscomb] to come as close as he could and I was running in and I was like 'he's too close', even if they nick it he's not going to catch it. He was happy to do that and I just said stand where you're comfortable. If you do get an edge you want him to have a chance to catch it."
Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo