Australia’s Test team has a selection quandary on its hands.
After completing a dominant victory over a desperately disappointing West Indies team at Adelaide Oval on Sunday, focus immediately shifts to the three-Test series against South Africa.
As is so often the case in this compressed cricketing smorgasbord of an international calendar, there’s little time to ruminate on a possible line up, with the first Test against the Proteas starting on Saturday in Brisbane.
Having amassed 1,490 runs for just 19 wickets in two Tests against the Windies, Australia doesn’t need to tinker with the batting line up — although selectors will, at some point, need to address David Warner’s slump in form with an eye to whether his decline is terminal or not.
But that, perhaps, can wait.
Bowling-wise though, Australia’s selectors do have questions to answer, with Josh Hazlewood out for the third Test of the summer after missing the Adelaide Test with a side strain.
Last year, Michael Neser made his debut in Adelaide during the Ashes, when Pat Cummins and Hazlewood were ruled out due to being a COVID contact and injury respectively.
But when Cummins returned at the MCG, Neser’s place was taken by Scott Boland — whose performance with the ball cemented his spot for the next two Tests as well as a place in Australian cricket folklore.
Fast forward 12 months and a similar situation presents itself, with Cummins set to return — potentially leaving one spot open in the bowling cartel.
So, if Hazlewood is ruled out, who out of Boland and Neser will keep their place? Or will the selectors fancy a wild card?
Scott Boland: The favourite
The start of Boland’s Test career is beyond even the imagination of the most dreamy fairytale writer.
He has taken 21 wickets at an absurd average of 10.33, with 15 of those wickets coming in the second innings of matches.
His debut, that absurd 6-7 against England on his home ground, the MCG last year, may have just been the greatest Ashes debut performance of all time.
In Adelaide he was unerringly accurate and economical and took a three-wicket maiden with the first over of his spell in the second innings on day three.
Sign. Him. Up.
And yet, incredibly, those were the only three wickets he took in the match for overall figures of 3-45.
His Shield form has been a touch patchy too, relatively speaking.
Boland has taken 10 wickets in three games for Victoria in the Sheffield Shield this year at 24.50, with a strike rate of 57.6.
He has though, got a first class average of 16.7 at the Gabba — the best of any venue he plays at — having taken 27 scalps on Queensland soil.
Michael Neser: The hometown hero
Neser made his debut in last year’s pink ball Test and then, both he and fellow Adelaide replacement Jhye Richardson missed out in the following Test in Melbourne, when Cummins returned and Boland came in — and preceded to take 6-7 in the second innings for a match haul of 7-55.
So what chance is Neser of suffering the same fate this time around, when the next Test is on his home ground?
Probably pretty likely.
Despite taking match figures of 5-56, statistically the best of the Aussie bowlers in Adelaide, you’d think the selectors may yet deny Neser the chance to complete against the land of his birth.
On the face of it, that would be a harsh decision.
Neser has seven wickets in his two Tests to date at an average of 16.71, and has been electrifying in the Shield this year, taking 24 wickets at 14.5, with a strike rate of 38.2.
How many of those wickets were taken at the Gabba? Well, none, actually.
Queensland’s only match at the Gabba so far this year was a rain-interrupted clash with Western Australia, in which Neser toiled for 30 wicketless overs as WA amassed 7-427 declared thanks to an unbeaten 164 from opener Cameron Bancroft.
Lance Morris: The Wild Card
In that match at the Gabba, WA were almost able to force a result, reducing Queensland to 7-97 in their second innings before time ran out.
That was, partly down to Lance Morris, who took 3-22 in 17 overs, dismissing Bryce Street, Jimmy Peirson and Joe Burns, accomplished batters all, for a combined total of 10 runs.
It wasn’t the first time he’s terrorised Queensland this season either, taking 4-26 as Queensland were dismissed for just 97 at the WACA, claiming the scalps of Test regulars Marnus Labuschagne (2) and Usman Khawaja (0) to boot.
Morris has taken a competition-leading 27 wickets in the Shield this year at an average of 18.40, earning him a surprise squad call up ahead of the Adelaide Test.
His express pace — he has been clocked at over 150kph in the Shield — has earned him the nickname, “wild thing”.
The 24-year-old was a real left-field choice to even join the squad, particularly given the form of Queensland quick Mark Steketee (25 wickets at 15.52 this year) with more experience under his belt — but you can’t argue with pace.