Joe Burns thought his biggest test over the next few weeks would be the final exam of his economics degree next month.
Now, with the Queensland batsman contemplating a shock Boxing Day Test debut for Australia, the studying has been put on the backburner for a self-confessed cricket “nuffie” who knows only too well the significance of the occasion.
“It’s a dream come true,” the 25-year-old said on Sunday. “Any Australian player, Australian cricket fan, dreams of playing these sorts of games. It’s something that I’ve always dreamt of in the front yard. I’m a massive Australian cricket fan who just happens to play cricket himself.”
Burns, who is expected to replace injured all-rounder Mitchell Marsh at the MCG, will join his new national teammates in Melbourne on Monday after featuring for Brisbane Heat against Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash League at ANZ Stadium on Sunday night.
It is an unorthodox lead-in to playing in the marquee event of the Australian cricket summer, but only 24 hours before his surprise call-up he was expecting to juggle the BBL with another significant occasion in his diary.
On January 19 Burns is due to sit the last exam of an economics degree he has been studying since 2007 at Brisbane’s University of Technology. The subject is called Contemporary Application of Economic Theory – a fair way from the “homework” Australia’s cricketers were infamously handed in India last year.
Over the next few days, however, his mind will be trained on learning the ropes of the Australian team.
It is yet to be determined where he will slot into the batting order. He has been opening this year for Queensland so his inclusion presents the possibility of out-of-sorts Shane Watson being shifted to the middle order to accommodate the newcomer going into the top three.
In the long tradition of Australian Test bolters, Burns’ elevation surprised him and family so much that he said his father, Reg, didn’t believe him when he picked up the phone while browsing in a Brisbane bookstore to be told the good news by his son. “That was a little disappointing,” he joked on Sunday.
The selection is merited, though, after a start to the season in which the composed right-hander has compiled 439 Sheffield Shield runs at 54.87.
Burns has been on the national radar since an Australia A debut in England two years ago, and his connection to Darren Lehmann, the former Queensland coach, has done him no harm.
“I am certainly looking forward to having Boof as the Australian coach,” he said. “I really enjoyed playing underneath him and if I do play on Boxing Day, it’s going to be with great pride that he’s my first Australian coach and hopefully there is plenty of games to come underneath him.”
Burns gets a start as state teammate Usman Khawaja faces the next nine months on the sideline recovering from a serious knee injury. Khawaja would have been a major contender to replace Marsh at the MCG, but his misfortune is Burns’ gain.
“I certainly do feel for Ussie,” Burns said. “There are plenty of players that dream to be in this situation so you feel for them when other circumstances take that away. All I can do is try and do the best I can and see what comes from that.”
Lehmann referred to Burns on Sunday as a cricket nuffie, and the man almost certain to be Australia’s 441st Test cricketer is not about to disagree.
“I do follow the game closely,” Burns said. “I love the game of cricket and that makes Boxing Day even more special, knowing how big this day is on the Australian sport calendar.
“The day after Christmas, where you’re sitting on the back deck watching cricket, it’s a special day on the cricket schedule, those are some of my earliest memories. I am a cricket nuffie, yeah.”
Lehmann said he had been anticipating Burns would get a crack at international level since he began coaching him.
“When I saw him play, I thought he could really play at the next level,” Lehmann said. “It’s taken him a while, he’s had some ups and downs like all players do. He’s put his name up at the right time. An opportunity comes up, now he’s got to grab it.”