On a bowlers’ day, it’s Boland’s day

Scott Boland’s maiden Test wicket was solemnised by his spiritual predecessor on their shared home ground on its summer feast day, made more festive still by another rampant Australian display.

Former Victorian and Australian right-arm seam bowler Paul Reiffel, now an umpire, upheld an lbw appeal against England tailender Mark Wood to put Victorian and new Australian right-arm seam bowler Boland on the Test board.

Wood ran the decision through DRS, and it needed a finely made judgement, about which of pad and bat was struck first, by third umpire Rod Tucker. It’s enough to say that all was in alignment. Reiffel was professional enough to keep a blank face as he raised his finger again. It was a wicket from his own textbook.

It was that sort of day for Australia. It was that sort of debut for Boland. Already on familiar territory, he could not have been made to feel more at home if he was sprawled on his own lounge chair with his feet up on the ottoman. Possibly on previous Boxing Days, he was.

Out in the middle, the MCG would have been unrecognisable to him in only one aspect: the empty vastness that has surrounded him for 10 years suddenly was full of – or at least filling with – people. Being Boxing Day, a few were late arriving, but he would not have minded. It had taken him a decade.

Otherwise, this was a day made to order as surely as any child’s letter to Santa. It was brisk, with a cloud cover and a sprinkle of rain to delay at the start, balmy for a Victorian. The once despised pitch was a lovely shade of green and had pace, movement and carry. None knew this better than Boland, who on a similar pitch in a Sheffield Shield game last month took eight wickets and was man-of-the-match. It was why he was here.

The English batting line-up, like the pitch, was bowler-friendly. Half-way through their batting innings in this series, they still have not reached 300.

Both umpires were Australian Test fast bowlers. Australia’s captain was a fast bowler, who upon winning the toss did not hesitate to bowl. Bowlers get straight to the point. Unlike others, Boland would not spend the day mooching nervously around the dressing room. Boland’s wife, Daphne, and children were on the spot, a privilege not afforded to many in these COVID-cursed times.

In frame: Scott Boland celebrates after taking his first Test wicket. Credit:Getty Images

Another quick, Josh Hazlewood, presented Boland with his cap. It’s a mere technicality that Boland was in this team to hold the almost-fit-again Hazlewood’s place. It’s an anomaly and somewhat of an embarrassment that Australia are exploring their fast-bowling options while incidentally dominating an Ashes series. Boland is the seventh to appear and the second newbie.

It’s irrelevant that he probably won’t be in the team for the fourth Test and cannot know when he will play again. Have a look on his mantelpiece in another 10 years: no matter what happens now, there’ll be a baggy green there.

Boland alone wore the cap throughout the warm-ups; the rest were in sponsors’ apparel. He wore it all day, and sometimes when at mid-on while Cummins bowling nursed the captain’s cap for him, too. Maybe he wore it to bed on Sunday night. Paul Hibbert, the late Victorian opener, did during his only Test.

Boland was wearing that cap on behalf of many: those who have shaped him as a cricketer these last 10 years and the 10 before that, Victorians generally, 30-somethings who wonder if their time has come and gone, and Indigenous Australians who have been sparsely represented in the game’s annals. Boland is only the second Indigenous man to play Test cricket after Jason Gillespie.

Good fit: Scott Boland with his baggy green. Credit:Getty Images

Boland made note of the proliferation of Indigenous players in AFL and the rugby codes and said he hoped he could be an inspiration in cricket. “It means a lot to join a pretty small club,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s just the start of something big for the Indigenous community in cricket.”

This day, Boland was role model and role player. Now that Cameron Green must be counted on the frontline, he was Australia’s fifth bowler. Every team should be so richly endowed.

Boland said he was nervous at the outset. After an early leg-stump half-volley that gifted Joe Root a boundary, he broke the next three balls back into Root’s pads. With that, he knew the method that has served so well for so long in first-class cricket would fit the bill here.

His probing found three inside edges that on other days will hit the stumps. “You won’t necessarily see any God balls,” his Victorian coach Chris Rogers had predicted, “but the batters will know they’re in a contest.” So it proved. He’s a serious-looking bowler whose disposition says that if he can’t beat your inside or outside edge, he will bore through you with his eyes.

Else times, he made from mid-on a close-up study of another Cummins-led masterclass, exploiting both the verve of the pitch and the gap between the several minds in which the English batters find themselves. Boland said the Australians knew that England would seek to leave the ball and so judged themselves on how often they could make them play. It was often enough.

He rolled his arm over during the lunch break, one of a suite of habits he has developed to sustain his body and career. “I’ve done it for a long time now,” he said. “I keep my body moving.”

He parked himself under two outfield catches high enough to send devils through his mind and took them both. Later, he would have nestled safely in a dressing room chair as Mark Wood made a fast and furious pre-stumps retort for England, perhaps even secretly admiring his spirit, for fast bowlers belong to their own anti-batter league.

Boland was one-fifth of a bowling unit this day, but of course he wasn’t, and when England was all out, the ever thoughtful Cummins pushed him to the fore of the Australian team as they exited his ground on his day.

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