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Starc’s Vizag return underlines his ODI genius

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Last updated on 19 Mar 2023 | 09:28 PM
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Starc’s Vizag return underlines his ODI genius

Is Mitchell Starc an ODI GOAT? You might not have thought much about it but the answer is somewhat yes

It's 2010. India vs Australia. 2nd ODI. Visakhapatnam. 

We have a 20-year-old Mitchell Starc making his international debut. He comes in with the reputation of being Mitchell Johnson’s clone. Most of the similarities are restricted to his bowling action - a left-armer, the height, the load-up. There are a few differences as well. But quite unfortunately, Starc showcased Johnson’s tendency to go wayward on occasions. He finished with figures of 8.5-0-51-0. 

Fast forward to 2023. India vs Australia. 2nd ODI. Visakhapatnam. 

Starc returns to the city for the first time since his debut and a lot has changed in the world between these trips. 

From Starc’s perspective, he has segregated himself from comparisons with Johnson. The Queenslander was more about bounce and angling the ball away from the right-handed batters. Starc pitches it up and brings it into the right-handers at a sharp angle. 

It is this quality of Starc which empowered him to run through India’s top-order on Sunday (March 19) and he has done that for the second time in the series. 

Ask Suryakumar Yadav. Starc’s inswingers have pushed his ODI career into the doldrums, courtesy of two golden ducks from near identical inswingers. The southpaw finished with figures of 8-1-53-5.

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"I feel like my rhythm has been good for a few weeks now and I guess the last couple of nights I've got the ball to shape in the air and do a little bit off the wicket so I'm feeling in a good place and hopefully it continues,” mentioned Starc while receiving the player-of-the-match award in Vizag.  

“The role I play is being slightly fuller and more attacking than the other guys which in turn can be not as economical, a bit more expensive but I think it brings in all the dismissals a bit more,” he explained further. 

For those who have seen Starc, these words summarize the left-arm seamer perfectly. 

He is a master at extracting swing and seam movement from the conditions. “We all hate facing him in the nets, particularly when he is swinging the ball,” said his Australian teammate, Ashton Agar roughly six months ago in a media interaction. 

Both Mumbai and Vizag offered him those conditions. Feeling fresh after nursing a finger injury and missing two matches during the Test series, Starc ripped through the Indian batters. In Mumbai, he picked 3/24 in six overs with the new ball. In Vizag, he grabbed 4/31 in his first spell of six overs.

Five of these seven first-spell wickets are off the full length and two off deliveries pitched in the good length areas. Five are from in-swingers and two from straighter deliveries. 

Overall, Starc has dismissed 48 right-handers in the first 15 overs of an ODI innings. 33 of those dismissals are from in-swingers. 29 from full-length deliveries. India certainly missed a trick by not promoting one of their two left-handed options - Ravindra Jadeja or Axar Patel. 

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But don’t misunderstand Starc for being a one-trick pony. He possesses all arrows in his quiver - a lethal yorker, bouncer, reverse swing, pace, and more. As a result, he averages 25.5 in the first 15 overs, 22.1 in overs 16 to 40 and 16.5 in the last 10 overs. Each of these phases offers different challenges and liberties. Starc aces them all. 

His overall numbers paint the picture of a great - 219 wickets in 109 matches, 21.8 runs per wicket, and 25.6 balls per wicket. His ratio of a little over 2 wickets per innings is the best for any pacer with a minimum of 200 ODI wickets. 

A mention of longevity will be a fair argument. However, no one else comes close to Starc’s wickets tally after 109 games. Saqlain Mushtaq is second at 205 scalps while the next pacer in the list is Brett Lee - 194 wickets. 

Not to forget, Starc has achieved these numbers in a more batting-friendly era, where the ODI rules have been changed constantly. The two new balls rule has taken out reverse swing which is one of Starc’s most potent weapons. 

To enunciate further, below is how the top ODI wicket-takers have fared when compared to the mean bowling average of their era. 

There is a 'starc' difference there, with the left-arm seamer 10.06 runs per wicket ahead of the overall average during his era. The similar numbers for his contemporaries are - Trent Boult - 7.85, Jasprit Bumrah - 7.45, Shaheen Shah Afridi - 7.25, Mohammad Shami - 6.07 and Kagiso Rabada - 4.14. 

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The question emerges: Is Starc perceived as a bonafide great? Perhaps No. 

There is more than one reason behind that. Firstly, most debates are reserved for batters, let alone the best bowler in ODIs, a format that is losing its relevance outside of the World Cup. Secondly, Starc does not play as regularly as the likes of the Akrams, the McGraths and the Donalds. 

Since 2017, Starc has played only 130 out of Australia’s 228 fixtures across formats. It is easy to fizzle out of people’s short memory further diminished by the growing number of fixtures. It is a result of both injuries and Australia managing his workload. 

The 2019 World Cup is a prime example. Starc missed all of Australia’s 13 ODIs in the build-up to the mega-event. Later, he emerged as the highest wicket-taker in the tournament. 

In that regard, Starc draws parallels with Lee - an inarguable ODI great who wasn’t as consistent in Test cricket.

Lee pouched 380 ODI wickets. There is a good chance Starc won’t get there. He is already 33 years old. He still misses games. Most importantly, there is not much ODI cricket nowadays. 

The highest wicket-taker in two out of his two ODI World Cup campaigns, Starc’s legacy will be carved out by the massive impact he has caused in whatever limited limited-overs cricket he has played. Imagine him doing it for the third time in a row later this year. That should be sufficient to attain the GOAT limelight he truly deserves. 

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