Raving mad to leave Starc out? Why Boland, not Hazlewood or Mitch, could be answer to pace problems in India

Australia v India, Cricket, featured, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Scott Boland

Despite being one of the best fast bowlers in the world, Josh Hazlewood was left out of the Test team in four straight matches last year and Australia should consider doing the same with Mitchell Starc in India. 

And Hazlewood may not be the answer either with Scott Boland and even Lance Morris potentially better options to partner Pat Cummins with the new ball. 

Australia have traditionally erred on the conservative side in team selections and it is likely they will do the same again when the first Test in Nagpur gets underway next week. 

Starc is out of action due to the finger injury he suffered during the Boxing Day Test win over South Africa so it is likely that Hazlewood will start the series alongside Cummins. 

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“It’s on track, still a couple of weeks in the splint and then head over, probably meet the guys in Delhi after hopefully a first Test match win and get myself into training over there,” said Starc at the AB Medal presentation earlier this week.

Mitchell Starc of Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

And coach Andrew McDonald basically showed Australia’s hand by saying that Starc would likely come straight back for the second Test in Delhi on February 17.

“When he does get out of the splint all his workloads are going to be up to speed and it will be pretty much into that second Test, which is good news to us.”

But is it a better option to roll the dice with Boland in one of the first two Tests and if the losses start mounting, go all in with Morris in the hope that his blistering speed through the air will breach the Indian batters’ defences. 

Morris has also proved to be a strong exponent at Shield level of reverse swing so that could also give him a better than remote chance of getting his first baggy green cap later in the series. 

Former Test seamer Trent Copeland told The Roar in a recent interview that after watching Boland for many years at Shield level, he can succeed “in all conditions”. 

Player All Tests In Asia In India Vs India
Pat Cummins 214 wickets at 21.25 28 at 28.78 8 at 30.25 43 at 24.46
Josh Hazlewood 222 at 25.83 16 at 39.18 9 at 32.77 23 at 31.21
Mitchell Starc 304 at 27.26 50 at 29 7 at 50.14 42 at 37.38
Scott Boland 28 at 12.21 Has not played Has not played Has not played
Lance Morris 59 (first-class wickets) at 25.08 Has not played Has not played Has not played
Cameron Green 23 at 29.78 3 at 63.66 Has not played 0-118 from 44 overs
Nathan Lyon 460 at 31.65 118 at 32.38 34 at 30.58 94 at 34.75
Mitchell Swepson 10 at 45.8 10 at 45.8 Has not played Has not played
Ashton Agar 9 at 52 7 at 23.14 Has not played Has not played
Todd Murphy 29 (first-class wickets) at 25.2 Has not played Has not played Has not played

His off-cutters to right-hand batters, which therefore move away from lefties, have been finding edges and front pads for many seasons. 

India’s record on home soil over the past 12 years is an incredible 39 wins from 51 Tests with just four losses.

Two of those defeats came in 2012 when Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann spun England to glory with James Anderson and Steven Finn backing them up.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The other two were Steve O’Keefe’s 12-wicket match at Pune in 2017 and Jack Leach leading the English attack with six scalps in a 227-run triumph at Chennai two years ago.  

If history is any guide, the success of left-arm orthodox tweakers like Panesar, O’Keefe and Leach shows why the Australian selectors have been keen to get Agar back in the Test XI.

Finn was a tall right-armer who banged the ball into the wicket hard, similar to Boland, and when Australia won 2-1 in 2004, their last series triumph in India, Jason Gillespie was the leading wicket-taker for the tourists with 20.

Boland is very similar to Gillespie in the way he extracts seam from even the most unfriendly surfaces. 

While he is yet to play Test cricket in India, there is also the not insignificant matter of Boland’s bowling average is still one of the best of all time at 12.21 after taking 28 wickets in his six matches. 

Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood

Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The case against Hazlewood is the same reason he was omitted from the last two matches on the Pakistan tour and both games in Sri Lanka last year – he struggles in Asian conditions.

In his six innings on the continent, he has taken just one wicket while conceding 168 runs from a combined 81.1 overs. He remains ultra economical but struggles to make breakthroughs. 

The case for Starc, when he’s back to full fitness, is much stronger but not as air-tight as you might think. 

While his record in Asia overall is impressive for a fast bowler with 50 wickets from 15 Tests at 29 runs per scalp, he struggled in India when the Australians last toured in 2017. 

Starc managed just seven wickets in the four Tests, with an average of 50.14 and a strike rate of a victim every 86.1 deliveries. The only country where he has a worse record is the UAE where he’s taken six wickets at 53.16 and a strike rate of 100 from three matches. 

His Asian record is saved by his returns in Sri Lanka where he has 29 wickets at 17.48.

Starc does offer the added advantages of being a left-armer which not only adds variation to the attack but provides extra footmarks for the spinners.

Cummins’ position shouldn’t be brought into question, as it has been in the white-ball squads from time to time – he not only has a decent return from his only trip to India six years ago (eight wickets in two Tests at 30.25) but he has troubled their batters more than pretty much every opponent in recent years. 

He has bagged 35 wickets in eight Tests in Australia and has been successful home and away in removing their first drop mainstay, Cheteshwar Pujara, seven times in 10 matches. Only Anderson (12 times in 24 matches) and Nathan Lyon (10 in 18) have dismissed the prolific 98-Test veteran on more occasions. 

The Australian skipper has also sent Virat Kohli packing five times in six Tests – every other bowler who has dismissed him that many times has needed at least 16 matches. 

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