back icon


Erratic Starc blows cold to relight doubts over his suitability for English conditions

Last updated on 10 Jun 2023 | 07:39 PM
Google News IconFollow Us
Erratic Starc blows cold to relight doubts over his suitability for English conditions

Here we are again, four years later. Having a conversation about Starc; if he’s the right fit for English conditions

It was telling that, as the Indian openers braced themselves to commence their pursuit of 444, Australia skipper Pat Cummins decided to take the new ball away from Mitchell Starc, preferring to bowl himself alongside the metronomic Scott Boland. 

It was only the second time in the past seven years that Starc had been relieved of new ball duty in Test cricket.

The last instance came in the fourth innings of the penultimate Ashes Test in 2019 at Old Trafford. Starc, on that occasion, was not thrown the new ball as, with seven overs left on Day 4, Tim Paine wanted to ensure his bowlers made every single delivery count. 

The need of the hour, there, was to test the batters in and out, and Paine rightly overlooked Starc, for he had the perfect men for the occasion in Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. 

Here at The Oval, Australia had 444 runs to play with, and yet Starc, perceived to be a new-ball specialist, found himself coming into the attack only in the seventh over. 

As much as the decision was a matchup-influenced one — Boland and Cummins had dismissed the Indian openers in the first innings — it was also a direct consequence of Starc’s own underperformance in the first innings, where he’d leaked runs at 5.20 RPO and was pedestrian and erratic outside the snorter he delivered to Kohli. 

Many, including the commentators, were initially left perplexed by Cummins’ call to hold Starc back, but a fateful 42-ball spell from the left-armer ended up showing exactly why Australia did what they did. 

Starc’s figures at the end of Day 4 read 7-0-45-0. He conceded more boundaries than every other frontline bowler, despite bowling the fewest number of overs among the lot and handed India far too many freebies, at no point creating sustained pressure across the seven overs he bowled.

And so here we are again, four years later. Having a conversation about Starc; if he’s the right fit for English conditions. 

In fairness, there probably wouldn’t have been too much scrutiny on Starc’s performance in this Test had skipper Cummins been at his usual best. Australia have always been ‘okay’ with the trade-off that comes with Starc (expensive but important wickets) because there’s total control elsewhere. 

But with Cummins being uncharacteristically undisciplined in this Test — he’s already bowled 11 no balls and has also leaked runs at over 4 RPO — Australia needed Starc to be on the money to restore the balance. He hasn’t been, and so having two of their three frontline seamers uncontrollably leak runs has put the Aussies in a bit of an uncomfortable spot. 

Why Starc, and not Cummins, is under the scanner is because the latter has insane credits in the bank in English conditions that the former doesn’t. Cummins, in England, averages nearly 12 fewer (21.03) than Starc (32.80), who, mind you, was dropped for 4 of the 5 Ashes Tests in 2019 as the management deemed him to not be the right horse for the course. 

Starc was a lock-in for this WTC final not because he suddenly became the right fit for the conditions but because he’d shown signs of getting back to his best across the previous 18 months. Particularly in seamer-friendly conditions back home, where he averaged 23.41. 

But more than the fantastic average, and more than the 36 wickets he took, it’s Starc’s economy in this period that instilled belief in the management that he could do a job in England, where discipline is king. 

Between December 2021 and March 2023, Starc bowled with an E.R of 3.05, which is significantly lower than his career E.R of 3.31. This is despite bowling on some of the flattest wickets in the world in Pakistan. 

The drop in E.R was a consequence of better control — more consistent with his lines, less spraying. Considering the sample size was a healthy 16 Tests, the management were well within their rights to believe that the left-armer would do a job for the side in the WTC final. 

20.4 overs into the final, however, the new, more controlled and disciplined Starc is yet to make an appearance. 

He’s conceded 116 runs in total in the 124 balls he’s sent down. Eye-watering enough, he’s leaked a boundary every 6.9 balls. 

The pitch map below illustrates just how erratic his lines have been to the right-hander. Starc, in this final, against the righties, has been all over the place.

But if you need to know why Australia continue to back him, despite his evident tendency to spray, look no further than the dismissal of Kohli in the first innings, where he sent India’s talisman back to the pavilion pretty much out of nowhere, with an absolute snorter. 

The term ‘x-factor’ was written all over that delivery, and this ability to turn a game out of nowhere is the sole reason why Australia have continued to put ever-lasting faith in him. 

He showcased his USP in the first innings with Kohli’s wicket, but with the WTC on the line, the onus is now on Starc to do something similar on Day 5 to break the game open. Really, he owes the team one after having produced a flabbergasting display of bowling on Day 4. 

In a way, he could be playing for an Ashes spot too. Whether he starts the first Test at Edgbaston on the 16th might very well depend on what he does with the ball on the final day.

Should he produce a couple of timely breakthroughs, that will encourage the management to pick him for the Ashes — as one of the three frontline seamers — regardless of his tendency to be inconsistent. But should he endure yet another forgettable day, Starc might just end up bowling himself out of the XI for the first Ashes Test.

With Scott Boland having been mighty impressive, taking to English conditions and the Dukes ball like fish to water, Cummins and head coach Andrew McDonald might seriously then consider the possibility of fielding a troika comprising Boland, Hazlewood and Cummins. Starc will then also have Michael Neser to contend with; Neser, mind you, is a bowler tailor-made for English conditions.

In Starc’s defense, his USP is wreaking havoc when it swings; there’s barely been any swing in this WTC final. But an X-factor bowler is also supposed to be a point of difference on flat wickets. Should Starc fail to impress on Sunday, it’ll put his Ashes spot in serious jeopardy, considering he’d have failed on a flat wicket a week ahead of a series that apparently will be played on ‘fast and flat’ wickets.

The Ashes can wait, though. Australia, for the time being, have bigger fish to fry, and that’s the WTC final. 

Having already won both the ODI and T20 World Cups, Starc will ‘complete’ international cricket by winning the WTC. Come the final day, his fate will be in his own hands.

Related Article