vs New Zealand (5/26)
The game was wide open. The target was a mere 244, the required run rate for New Zealand was just above six, and Kane Williamson was at the crease.
Aaron Finch threw the ball to Mitchell Starc. The first two deliveries were 145 kph+; Williamson played them to opposite squares of the ground and took a couple each time. Starc’s third was a cutter angling across the New Zealand skipper. Williamson tried to dab it down to the third-man, his go-to shot, but could only manage to nick off. The canny Starc hadn’t just taken pace off; he had also extracted just that bit of extra bounce that misses the middle of the bat and finds the upper edge. What was noticeable here was that Starc attacked Williamson on his strength, not weakness, and still defeated him.
It was not the first time in this tournament when Aaron Finch, with Australia seemingly behind the eight ball, threw the ball to Starc, and it was not the first time Starc delivered under pressure.
Starc was brought back in the 36th over, and immediately removed Tom Latham with some help from an acrobatic Steve Smith at mid-wicket. The left arm quick, bowling unchanged, ran through New Zealand’s lower order to seal a win and collect another five-wicket haul for himself, the third in his World Cup career.
Three of Starc’s five wickets came during the middle-overs (11-40 overs). He has taken 11 wickets in the middle phase in this World Cup, one less than Lockie Ferguson’s tally of 12 wickets but at a more impressive strike-rate of 19.6 balls per wicket. And it is not just this World Cup -- the Australian speedster has been a force in the middle-overs for quite a while now.
In the middle overs, when oppositions are looking to consolidate and prepare for the big finish, Starc has taken wickets approximately four balls quicker than any other bowler. If you prefer to rate bowlers by average instead of strike-rate, Starc is one of only two pacers you will find in the top 5 bowling averages during the middle-overs since the 2015 World Cup. His 21.9 is marginally behind Rashid Khan’s 21.08, but way better than then the next fast bowler, Mustafizur Rahman (28.2).
The numbers show Starc’s dominance in the middle-overs, a period in the game which is largely considered as the preserve of spinners.
Australia had posted a decent 285 but was still at least 20 runs short, given the start they had at Lord’s. To win against England, you need to penetrate their top-order. Jason Behrendorff removed James Vince off the second ball of the innings, but Joe Root was the perfect sheet-anchor in such a run-chase.
In the eight-game old history between Starc and Root spanning 72 deliveries, the left-arm seamer had never dismissed the right-hander. But this was a World Cup game where Starc is a different beast who can defy all statistical odds. It took him just five deliveries to trap Root in front of the stumps off an inswinging full-length ball that Root did not even think about reviewing. And the icing on that cake was that it was a wicket-maiden.
In his next over, Starc bounced out the opposition captain, Eoin Morgan. Fine-leg was moved finer by Finch just before the ball. Morgan, a compulsive hooker, aimed for the square leg boundary. The plan demanded Starc to bowl at excessive pace in order to get Morgan’s pull to go finer. He executed the plan to perfection. Morgan fell for the bait. Beaten by the extra pace, barely able to keep his balance, Morgan was caught by Pat Cummins at deep fine-leg.
England lost three wickets within the first powerplay that day. However, Ben Stokes fought on to ensure that England was in the hunt. Until, that is, the 36th over when Mitchell Starc returned for his third spell and produced the ‘Ball of the Tournament’ – a yorker at extreme pace that swung in very late to go cause Ben Stokes to lose both his bat, his footing, and his wicket. Stokes was left kicking his bat in frustration. And just to rub it in, Starc in his fourth spell of the day added the wicket of Adil Rashid, and helped bundle England out for 221.
Three of Starc’s wickets in this game came off full-length deliveries. His fullish balls have been the most productive delivery in this tournament, yielding 14 wickets. Next comes Mustafizur Rahman, who has taken 13 wickets with his short balls, followed by Jofra Archer’s 12 wickets from short-balls. When it comes to only full-length balls, Starc is ahead of his contemporaries by quite a distance.
vs West Indies, 5/46
Probably the most hard-fought game that Australia has won in the tournament till now. Defending a modest total of 288, Starc had removed Gayle with a fusillade of fullish balls.
About 15 overs later, Starc came on for another spell, went wicket-less in two overs. He was then called back for a crucial third spell to lock horns with the swashbuckling Andre Russell, who was in devastating mood. The southpaw had gone for 11 runs off his first 10 balls at a crucial point in the game and Starc kept backing his strength - the fullish ball. Eventually, Russell edged one to be caught brilliantly by Glenn Maxwell at point.
Starc had done his job and he was out of the attack. Jason Holder and Carlos Brathwaite got the chance to forge a partnership. They kept the chase alive for the next six overs until Starc was re-introduced to deliver the knockout punch. 1, dot, WICKET, dot, dot, WICKET, DOT, 1 leg bye, WICKET read Starc’s next nine deliveries and he had once again finished the game in Australia’s favor.
An important thing to notice is how Starc has been utilized by Finch. Well aware of his capability and also the fitness issues, the Aussie skipper has used his ace bowler in short bursts. The most Starc has bowled in the first 10 overs this World Cup has been a four over-spell against West Indies.
His opening spell is then followed by another short burst during the middle-phase after which he comes back to the attack somewhere around the 35th over and bowls out if Finch senses a chance to end the game. In 2015, he bowled 46.9 percent of his balls in the first 10 overs. This year, he has bowled 48.4 percent of his deliveries in the middle-phase (11-40 overs).
Starc has bowled 29 spells in this World Cup so far and has taken at least one wicket in 15 of those.
Whenever he had the ball, he made sure he hampers the opposition, not by just controlling runs but in a more afflicting fashion - taking wickets. For Starc, there are no half-measures. He has hit the timber eight times in this World Cup, the most by any bowler, and thrice of the batsmen who were batting past 50.
Wickets, big wickets, wickets at crucial moments, has been Starc’s modus operandi this tournament. The only game where he was off colour, the loss against India at the Oval.
Moving into this World Cup, Starc had not played any ODI cricket and had missed almost half of Australia’s ODIs in 2018. His selection was purely based on reputation. Reputation that was enhanced by what he did in the previous World Cup. Starc proved he is not a one World Cup wonder and belongs in the biggest arena of white-ball cricket. He is once again at the top of the pile in terms of wicket-taking. There can be quite a few parallels drawn between Starc’s two World Cup campaigns.
Starc is on the verge of breaking Glenn McGrath’s record of most wickets in a World Cup edition (26 wickets in 2007). He has 169 wickets in his ODI career and is still 212 wickets away from McGrath’s overall tally of ODI wickets - the most by an Australian bowler. The left-arm seamer is 29 years old at the moment, as compared to McGrath, who was 30 when he reached 160 ODI scalps. Starc has age on his side but it remains to be seen if he can remain injury-free and reach the pinnacle for Australia in the ODI game.
*data till July 5, 2019