By Niharika Raina
New Delhi, Jun 2 (IANS): With the World Test Championship final ending at The Oval on June 11, just five days before five-match Ashes begins, Australia's selectors could go the conservative route and play Scott Boland ahead of Josh Hazlewood for the marquee title clash, feels former fast-bowler Jason Gillespie.
Hazlewood had missed Australia's tour of India due to a left achilles tendon issue, which delayed his arrival in IPL 2023. He then left the tournament after playing only three games due to a side issue.
Recently, Hazlewood had said that he is nearing full fitness to play in the WTC final against India starting from June 7 at The Oval in London. He had also missed a majority of the last two Australian home summers due to side strains.
Boland, on the other hand, is coming off a ten-week break since his last outing via the Sheffield Shield final in March. With concerns over Hazlewood gaining full fitness in time for the WTC final, Boland, who averages 13.42 with the ball in the second championship cycle, is firmly in the picture to play his first-ever Test in England.
"Hazelwood had some injury concerns over the last couple of years really and hasn't played a lot for Australia. Most recently in the IPL for Bangalore, he's had a side issue. What's in the selectors minds is that when Scott Boland has come in to play for Australia, he's actually done a wonderful job. He certainly hasn't let anyone down.
He has done the job, but I think Josh Hazlewood is the incumbent. If he's fit, firing and ready to go, he probably gets picked ahead of Scott Boland. However, I think with five (Ashes) Test matches against England coming up in pretty quick time, I just wonder if the Australian selectors will be a little bit conservative and decide to play Scott Boland ahead of Josh Hazlewood. That's what I think will more likely happen," said Gillespie in an interview to IANS.
Recently, former Australia all-rounder Brendan Julian called for left-arm fast-bowler Mitchell Starc to bowl first change in order to exploit the late swing generated in bowling with the Dukes ball in England.
Gillespie, who previously coached Yorkshire and Sussex in county cricket, called Julian's suggestions good and interesting while adding he understood the logic behind it. But he felt that Starc should be given a go with the new ball, even if it is for a brief period.
"If you put me on the spot, I'd probably be leaning towards Mitchell Starc taking that first over. He bowls left-arm and swings the ball. Even if it is for a short three-over burst at the start, you want your fast bowler, a left-arm quick, who can potentially swing the ball early and bowls very full," he said.
"You want him to have first crack at the opening batters, even if he bowls three overs and then comes back on. Like, have a 30-minute break and then come back on when the lacquer is off the duke ball a bit more -- that might be a really good strategy. I still think with Mitchell Starc's pace and aggression, you want to unleash him straightaway, even if it is just for a little three over burst," he added.
Australia have made it to their first-ever WTC final after finishing the 2021-23 cycle on top of the table. Their only series loss co-incidentally came against India 2-1 away from home earlier this year.
Gillespie feels Pat Cummins & Co have the initial edge due to conditions point of view, while adding that India cannot be taken lightly due to their performances away from home being great in the recent few years.
"We're all pretty excited about this World Test Championship final between two very, very good cricket teams who have played recently against each other, in very different conditions compared to the UK. But I think that certainly won't detract from what I think will be a fantastic game of cricket. I don't know who would be seen as favourite. Possibly, Australia only because the conditions have probably more in their favour," Gillespie said.
"However, I think what India have done over the last decade or so, is they've shown that they're a better travelling side. India has always been incredibly strong at home, but had a bit of criticism that they're not as good away from home as they could be. But I think they're certainly a lot better, particularly in the last decade or so. They're a much better team on the road now than what they used to be.
So that's why I suggest it's going to be a pretty tight tussle in terms of the match. I'm really excited by it and I know the Australians are, from having two South Australians in Travis Head and Alex Carey, in the team. I know how excited they are about the game and it should be a very good spectacle to watch," he concluded.