“At Christmas, all roads lead home.”
On Sunday, when Pat Cummins walks out alongside Joe Root for the toss, there will be the Victorian man, Scott Boland walking in the winter wonderland – the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), with all roads definitely leading the pacer home on an overcast day.
272 First-Class wickets, 79 appearances and ten entire years later, Boland will wear the Baggy Green, joining a prestigious group of cricketers as the fourth Indigenous cricketer to make Test appearance. It couldn’t have been better for the lanky pacer, a debut at home in one of Australia’s most coveted fixture of the summer season.
Having already made his Australian debut, with 19 wickets, Boland arrives with a merit, he knows the conditions at the MCG, like none other in the country. In a venue where the pitches often have been described as a ‘graveyard’, Boland has not just survived but thrived, with unreal consistency.
F A M I L Y ❤️🇦🇺 pic.twitter.com/VtFZUMV3eF— Cricket Australia (@CricketAus) December 25, 2021
But since 2016, his name has always rung around in the domestic circuit, like Michael Neser’s but the opportunity has always evaded him. With his match-winning performance at the ‘G in the only Sheffield Shield game this season, Boland’s debut has come at the best time possible for the pacer.
Australian skipper Pat Cummins, while confirming Boland’s debut, was in full praise of the Victorian pacer. "We earmarked him as a chance for here and the SCG in particular, we think his record is really well suited," said Cummins.
Packed MCG, family and friends at the venue, Boland couldn’t have asked for anything better.
But how did he get here?
Victorian pacers have always been part of the Australian legacy, some have even transitioned into bigger figures – coaches, umpires amidst others. Boland is just six wickets shy of being the fifth-best pacer to have ever bowled at the MCG but his Australian dream have only been fulfilled in 2021, after a long toil in domestic cricket.
Earning a Baggy Green is the ultimate goal of several cricketers in Australia and that journey often is also the toughest one in the country. It is one of the flattest surfaces Down Under and is one of the most strenuous tasks for a pacer.
In just two Sheffield Shield games this season, the lanky pacer accounted for 15 wickets and also made it to the national squad for the series against South Africa. But the for the fairytale to have happened, it was destined for the pacer to make his debut in front of his home crowd in Melbourne.
Chris Rogers, Victoria’s coach perhaps knows his abilities the best, with the former Australian opener saying that he wouldn’t swap anyone for Boland. The 32-year-old’s abilities is such that it is almost tough to find several others with the same profile.
And like the other Victorian, who found success with the Baggy Green – Peter Siddle – Boland bowls the hard overs, the long spells. Earlier this year, when New South Wales clashed against Victoria, Boland bowled a total of 43 overs in the game, at the ‘G, picking up seven crucial wickets in the clash. It embodies who Boland is and now he is reaping the benefits of the hard work in the middle.
Since his debut, only Chadd Sayers and Jackson Bird have bowled more overs than Boland in the Sheffield Shield, with 2559 overs. His strike-rate (56.7), only behind Jackson Bird for bowlers who have bowled over 2500 overs.
Boland’s success at the ‘G
He isn’t a Jhye Richardson or a Mark Steketee but on a flat surface in Melbourne, he is more than handful. In this year’s Sheffield Shield, after just two games, the pacer averages 10.80 and was influential in both games against NSW. While being sporadically useful on other surfaces in the country, his best suit comes at the ‘G, in conditions that are nearly impossible for the pacers.
At the MCG, Boland averages 25.56, picking up 96 wickets across his 27 appearances, with only Cummins having a better average at the venue than the Victorian, with 18.71. Since Matthew Page took over the head curator at the MCG, Boland has struck the most at the venue, with 45 scalps, averaging just 18.4.
And now with the conditions in Melbourne improving for the pacers, it is a prime opportunity for the ‘Boland-hype-train’ to arrive at the station. Against the left-handers, with two in England’s top six, the Victorian can be real handful.
"His pace stays up, he's always at you, bowls really well to left handers. Asks a lot of questions around that fourth stump, knee roll, a bit of nibble each way. He's just really well suited here,” Cummins said of Boland ahead of the clash.
While his pace isn’t the most daunting aspect about him, his line and length definitely could come as a hard thing to get away for the English batters. On a tough Adelaide surface last year in the Sheffield Shield, Boland showed how menacing he could be, just bowling the tough lengths, picking up six wickets for just 61 runs, bowling 33 overs in the second innings.
His Test debut has been one in waiting, having been previously part of the Australian setup, as the 12th Man once and been in the squad for the other series. But on Sunday, he has finally outlived the drought, with a chance finally coming his way.
Scott Boland is no more a journeyman, he has now earned his well-awaited Baggy Green.