Ashes: England confirm four changes as Australia hand debut to Scott Boland

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  • Mitchell Starc
    Mitchell Starc
    Australian cricketer
  • Scott Boland
    Cricketer

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England have swung the axe for the Boxing Day Test at the MCG, confirming four changes to their XI, while Australia will hand another debut to a veteran fast bowler, Victoria’s Scott Boland. 

England are 2-0 down in the series, a position from which only one team – Don Bradman’s Australians in 1936/37 – have won the Ashes. Their recent record in Australia is dismal, having lost 11 and drawn one of their last 12 matches.

They have decided now is the time to make wholesale changes, with Rory Burns and Ollie Pope dropped from the top six, and Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad shuffled out as part of the bowling rotation.

In their place are Zak Crawley to open the batting, Jonny Bairstow at No6, plus Mark Wood and Jack Leach in the bowling attack. 

Wood – with success – and Leach, who struggled, played the series opener in Brisbane before being left out in Adelaide, but Crawley and Bairstow come in cold. 

Crawley has averaged 11 this year, but had an excellent 2020, in which he scored 267 against Pakistan, and plays the short ball well. He will open with Haseeb Hameed, who can consider himself fortunate not to have been axed, too.

Australia: Warner, Harris, Labuschagne, Smith, Head, Green, Carey (wk), Cummins (c), Starc, Boland, Lyon

England: Hameed, Crawley, Malan, Root (c), Stokes, Bairstow, Buttler (wk), Robinson, Wood, Leach, Anderson

England opted for Hameed over Burns because they believe he has a brighter long-term future, and he put in a promising performance in Brisbane before struggling in Adelaide. 

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Burns’ Test career could be over. He is 31, has played 31 Tests, and averages 31. He has struggled with Mitchell Starc, who has not been rested as some predicted he might be, and one left-hander fewer in England’s top order should help them deal better with Mitchell Starc. 

Pope, 23, should return at international level, but he has been taken out of the line of fire by England due to his struggles with Nathan Lyon. Bairstow’s Test career has been trending downwards since he scored a century at Perth in the 2017 Ashes, and England mulled this decision at length, but they feel his experience of Australian pitches will be helpful.

Australia are making two changes to their side. Skipper Pat Cummins is back after being ruled out of the Adelaide win as a close contact of a positive Covid-19 case, but there is still no Josh Hazlewood due to a side strain. 

Michael Neser and Jhye Richardson, who replaced that pair in Adelaide, both miss out. Neser is dropped, while Richardson has a minor leg injury having pulled up sore after Adelaide, where he took a maiden five-wicket haul. 

Boland comes in for his Test debut, on his home ground, where he averages 26. 

“We earmarked him as a chance for here and the SCG, we think he’s really well suited and his record here speaks for itself,” said Cummins. “Home ground, having some like him fresh who can perform right away were the big factors.

“We’re really excited. It’s a dream to wear the Baggy Green but packed MCG, 70,000, Boxing Day, it doesn’t get any better.”

Boland is just the second indigenous Australian to represent the Test team, after Jason Gillespie. 

“It’s huge, Dizzy was the first,” said Cummins. “Australia has a rich history, 50-60,000 years and it’s great that is starting to be reflected in our team.”

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