There are only three good reasons that may prevent Scott Boland from enjoying a lengthy Test career in his 30s and age is not one of them.
Boland, who made his memorable debut in last year’s Boxing Day Test, enters Monday’s corresponding fixture in a familiar position – unsure of whether he’s playing due to Australia’s exceptional fast-bowling depth.
The 33-year-old Victorian has only played five Tests in his first 12 months in possession of a baggy green cap despite being available for all 11 matches in Australia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and back home again this summer.
Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood have formed Australia’s best pace trio since Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee joined forces at the turn of the century, making it near on impossible for the likes of Boland, Michael Neser and Jhye Richardson to get a look-in at Test level in recent years.
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Boland and Hazlewood, available again after overcoming a side strain, are vying for the third seamer’s spot in the second Test against South Africa.
A decision is likely to be made after Saturday’s training session “or Christmas Day, or maybe even the morning of the game – I’m not sure”, Boland told reporters in Melbourne on Friday.
In Boland’s favour in his desire to enjoy a decent span in the national team is the fact that he does not have as many miles on the legs over the course of his career as many pacemen his age.
Boland has never added to his workload with an English county stint like some of his Sheffield Shield contemporaries although he’s considering taking up a short-term offer next year as a precursor to the Ashes.
In first-class cricket he’s played 91 matches and sent down 17,618 deliveries.
Despite being two years older than Hazlewood, that’s significantly less than the NSW star’s 19,717 from 99 first-class outings, including 58 for Australia.
Pat Cummins, who missed more than five years of Test cricket early in his career due to back injuries, is up to 12,281 deliveries from 59 matches, including 45 Tests, while Starc has reached 23,219 from his 125 games (74 Tests) as he approaches his 33rd birthday next month.
Lie Boland, former NSW seamer Stuart Clark was another late bloomer who didn’t get a run in the Test team until 2006, a few months after his 30th birthday.
He still went on to take 94 wickets in 24 Tests before he was dropped after the 2009 Ashes tour defeat.
Another modern example of a 30-something bowler shining late in their career is Colin Miller, who was 34 when he received his first baggy green cap in 1998.
The unique spinner/seamer ended up with 69 wickets in an 18-Test foray which ended in the Chennai dust in the decisive third match of Australia’s unsuccessful 2001 tour.
English veteran James Anderson is proving the ultimate example for fast bowlers worldwide who think that their best days are behind them as their 30s rolls on.
Wisden Cricket’s head of content, Yas Rana, came up with the stat of the year recently when he posted on Twitter that Anderson’s record after turning 35 was comparable with Cummins, 11 years his junior.
Anderson now has 195 wickets at 21.03 in 52 matches since his 35th birthday after England wrapped up their three-game clean sweep in Pakistan while Cummins’ record is 209 victims at 21.15 per scalp from 45 Tests.
“I see what he’s doing at 40, I think he’s had one of his best years to date,” Boland said.
“I think he’s going really well. I don’t know if I’ll make it to 40, but I’d like to go on for a few more years and I think my body is in a pretty good spot that I can keep pushing and keep bowling lots of overs.”
Boland has been barely troubled by injury, unlike most fast bowlers, during his 11-year career with the Vics.
After playing a handful of games as he tried to cement his spot in the team in his first couple of seasons, Boland missed just four Sheffield Shield games for the Vics over the next six years before the pandemic and Test selection limited his availability in the past couple of summers.
“Last year I wasn’t in the squad at all so to be around and training, and playing these last few games has been great,” he said.
“I’m absolutely loving it and, hopefully, I can keep bowling really well and keep trying to be in the squad and the team for a few years to come.
“We’ve sort of said it over the last little bit that it’s going to take five, six or seven fast bowlers to get through five Tests this summer, four in India and then another five or six in England. It’s not going to be the same two or three guys like it might have been in the past. There might be times where some guys get rested.”
The Ashes could be a special time for Boland. His barely believable record of 25 wickets at 10.36 from five Tests is likely to rise – it would be even more astonishing if it didn’t – against quality opponents like South Africa and India.
But he could have a field day on the English wickets for the World Test Championship final at The Oval and the Ashes tour, according to The Roar’s cricket expert, former Test paceman Damien Fleming.
“It makes you think: if Boland’s making this Kookaburra move, then what’s he going to do with the Dukes ball and its more pronounced seam when they head over to England next year?” he wrote recently after Boland tore through the West Indies in Adelaide.
Boland, one of the most unassuming cricketers in Australia who hates to talk to the media, especially about himself, was modest when asked about his 2023 goals.
“I’m looking forward to hopefully being part of tours to India and England,” he said. “Everyone’s been telling me that England will really suit my bowling, so hopefully I get a chance over there.”
Of more immediate concern is the possibility of an encore performance at his home ground following last year’s 6-7 spell which hammered the final nail in England’s Ashes coffin.
Boland said the MCG centre square had improved in recent seasons from being a batting paradise to being more bowler-friendly, although nowhere near as extreme as last week’s Gabba greentop which produced 34 wickets in the first two-day Test on Australian soil since 1931.
“Through the [T20] World Cup, there looked like some wickets with some really good pace in them, so hopefully we get something similar,” he said.