News Analysis

Scott Boland and the problem Australia like to have

Cummins confirmed Hazlewood will be fit for the first Ashes Test, which leaves Australia with a difficult decision to make over the next few days

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
There is surely nothing more Scott Boland can do to become one of the first-choice names in Australia's attack.
So far throughout his stellar eight-match career, which has brought 33 wickets at 14.57, Boland's opportunities have all come because of the absence of others. However, in the aftermath of securing the World Test Championship final at The Oval, captain Pat Cummins said that Josh Hazlewood, who was ruled out of facing India but said to be "very close" to playing, would be available to face England on Friday.
While Cummins was speaking, Hazlewood was completing an eight-over workout on The Oval outfield where minutes before Nathan Lyon had secured Australia the mace.
"Josh is in a really good position, so he will be available for selection next week," Cummins said. "I think he's had two spells out there today and feeling great, so he's got quite a bit of work behind him and his body is feeling good."
Moments earlier, in the afterglow of victory during the presentation ceremony, Cummins had called Boland his "favourite" player although such a criteria probably does not carry much weight in selection.
Heading into the final day against India, Boland, the pick of Australia's pace attack throughout the Test, did not really need to do any more to advance his claims to be a first-choice place in the attack, but he added to his already substantial body of outstanding work anyway.
He brilliantly worked over Virat Kohli outside off stump, making him uncertain about what to play and leave, before drawing him into driving at a very wide delivery. The edge flew quickly to Steven Smith's right at second slip where he held an excellent catch. Any overnight uncertainty (or hope) evaporated.
Two balls later and the game was done and dusted when, from around the wicket, he found the outside edge of Ravindra Jadeja. It was the sixth time in his eight Tests that he had taken multiple wickets in the over, a trait which began with that magical debut spell at the MCG. Only Jadeja himself could match that, having also taken multiple wickets in an over six times in eight Tests over the same period.
"I feel like we're starting to become too used to Scotty Boland just doing that," Cummins said. "He just keeps finding another level doesn't he? He's unbelievable. He is just our best bowler all game. Held it together [and] didn't go for many runs. Always looked threatening. To get two wickets in a row was just reward for how well he bowled throughout the whole game."
While Australia have spoken regularly of likely needing to rotate their quicks throughout the Ashes - and therefore the concept of just one 'first choice' attack is probably outdated - it would seem extraordinary if Boland doesn't line up at Edgbaston barring any injury concerns. So the question becomes fitting him in.
The feeling before the final was that if Hazlewood had been fit, or if this had been a one-off game for Australia with no Ashes to follow, he would have played. With 222 wickets at 25.83 and 36 in England at 23.58 it's hard to say that would have been the wrong call. Earlier this year, when he returned from injury against South Africa in Sydney, he played ahead of Boland and took five wickets in the match.
So, after all this, it may not be Boland vs Hazlewood. Which brings the spotlight back onto Mitchell Starc. He was the most expensive of Australia's quicks at The Oval although showed his value by removing Kohli in the first innings with a vicious lifter and helped clean up the lower order in the second.
Interestingly, he was demoted from the new ball in the second innings: on only 12 previous occasions in 148 Test innings had he not shared the opening duties. However, Cummins played down any significance over the move.
"I don't think I'd look too much into that," he said. "We did that last Ashes series as well. We chop and change the opening bowlers depending on gut feel. The ball moves a little bit differently to a Kookaburra. It might swing a bit more after a few overs rather than the first couple.
"I thought Starcy bowled well, particularly today. He did a role for us that we know Starcy can do after 80 Test matches. Again, his runs, we were talking about Mitchell Starc the bowler, but he always contributes with the bat as well. He has got a huge tour ahead of him. The English side sets up slightly different as well, there are a few more left handers. Really happy with where Starcy is."
So, either someone who averages under 15 in Test cricket, someone with more than 300 wickets or someone with more than 200 wickets will not be in the XI on Friday. As captains, coaches and selectors like to say, it's a good problem to have. But it still makes for one of most fascinating decisions Australia have faced in recent times.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo