Scott Boland picked up a magnificent haul of 6/7 and on his debut, he won the Johnny Mullagh medal which also boosted his indigenous image.
Even before a ball was bowled at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Scott Boland had already created history. He was just the fourth indigenous Australian player to play Test cricket after Faith Thomas, Jason Gillespie, and Ashleigh Gardner. In the last couple of years, Australians have gone out of their way to acknowledge the aboriginal contribution to the game. 153 years ago, a path-breaking aboriginal tour from Australia arrived in England for a series. This was nine years before the start of official international cricket.
The contributions of those Aboriginals did not get much screen or air time for decades. But, in the last couple of years, the outreach for the indigenous people of Australia has been significant. The symbolism is evident in the limited-overs jersey worn by the Australians, in which every picture or graphic is a symbol of indigenous values. In 2020, they went one step further. They instituted the Johnny Mullagh medal, which was to be given to the player of the match for the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne.
In 2020, it was Ajinkya Rahane who won it. The year after, one of Australia’s own and that too from the indigenous section has managed to make it memorable. Scott Boland’s performance on days two and three of the Ashes will live long in the memory for many to come. It was a performance that saw Australia retain the Ashes in grand style.
When Scott Boland made his first international forays, it was a confounding time for Australian cricket. They had just won the ICC World Cup at home. The majority of Australia’s pace attack in Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, and Mitchell Starc were rotated frequently to manage their workload. Scott Boland was one of the bowlers who got an opportunity only when the main trio was rested.
Boland’s debut series against India was unspectacular. On flat pitches, Boland managed just one wicket against India and conceded runs. After a poor tour of South Africa that saw Australia being whitewashed for the first time in ODIs, he was shunted out. Boland though refused to give up. Through the rigors of Sheffield Shield and to some extent the Big Bash League, Boland kept himself in the limelight.
In the last couple of years, Boland has acquired a different level of accuracy when it came to the Melbourne Cricket Ground. He had averaged 21 at the venue in the last couple of years, with his latest haul being eight wickets against New South Wales. Melbourne, in the past couple of years, had become a bowler’s graveyard, producing flat decks. But, Boland knew the trick of hitting the right length in Melbourne. It needed a fast-bowling captain to understand the nuances of a bowler who could get the best out of the surface. Thus, Pat Cummins ensured Boland’s five-year international wait ended.
When Scott Boland bowled in the first innings, the early damage was done by Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins. Nathan Lyon controlled the middle innings well and priced out three wickets himself. Perhaps it was a good thing. The initial nervousness of bowling at the MCG with a capacity crowd of 57,000 would have been intimidating. Mitchell Johnson has himself admitted that even after so many years, he would still shake when he entered the MCG with a capacity crowd.
Now, COVID or no COVID, a crowd of 40,000 would be enough to create noise that would intimidate opponents. After Australia managed a lead of 82, Australia had momentum. Starc broke through in a hostile spell when he sent back Zak Crawley and Dawid Malan. The heat generated by Starc rubbed off on Boland.
He maintained a mixture of the back of length plus full to compound England. With the pitch still assisting seam movement, Boland found the right conditions to trouble England. He got rid of Haseeb Hameed with a delivery that nipped away from a back of a length. For Jack Leach, he angled the ball in and it zipped off the deck to knock the off-stump back. The spell of Starc and Boland had ensured the Urn would return to Australia. It was only a matter of time.
Those two wickets had built a crescendo of excitement heading into day 3. Starc delivered the big blow when he bowled Ben Stokes with an in-cutter at pace. Now, it was the turn of Boland. A dropped catch off his first ball in a new over signaled bigger things. In that same over, Boland trapped Bairstow LBW with a delivery that straightened and squared up the batsman.
The next couple of dismissals showed Boland his adaptability. Joe Root, who had driven well off the full ball, went for the drive to a Boland delivery that was pitched up. In this case, the length was slightly back of a half volley and he edged it to the slip cordon. With Root gone, Boland was now on fire.
Another full ball saw Mark Wood chip it back to the bowler. When Boland sent back Ollie Robinson with a full delivery with some extra pace off the deck, he ended with figures of 6/7 in four overs. Commentators on air were urging MCG authorities to install a statue of Scot Boland at the G. When he walked to the boundary, the crowd was bowing in reverence to him. In response, he gave small thumbs-ups. Even when the Australians were taking a victory parade after the win, Boland preferred to stay behind, a glimpse into his shy, private nature.
At the age of 32, Boland might have never thought that he could get the Baggy Green. But, on Christmas Eve, he got to know he would play the Ashes. Three days later, he helped them retain the Urn. Life is a fairytale. For the man for the Gulidjan tribe, his exploits have given indigenous Australians a new hero.