Australia’s trust with Mitchell Starc in the longest format goes a long way back but the question mark over his accuracy, competitiveness and even wrist position has always existed parallelly.
The left-arm pacer’s passion for the longest format is unquestionable.
But ever since Australia’s loss at the hands of India at home, the criticism over the 31-year-old has only increased multi-fold. And every time he walks out in the whites, it only amplitudes.
Under Pat Cummins’ leadership, Starc’s impact was set to be profound but unless the first ball is ever bowled, everything that precedes are just plain talks. With Starc, it was just that: plain talks. The criticism never bothers him, in fact, he can’t even hear the criticism.
The Ashes; the big stage for the big performance from Starc. In the lead-up, he was pumped, when the first ball was about to be released, he was thrilled and when it hit the timber, he was ecstatic. The thud wasn’t just the ball knocking the stumps over, it was the left-hander coming out with a statement.
It was a statement of intent, that criticism only fuels him to be better.
But obviously, he was pumped against India and that didn’t really make a difference, did it? He was battered, bruised and more often than not, looked clueless against the visiting Indian side. His short-ball ploy against Shubman Gill showed the weakness in his preparation and the execution was miles away from what he would have intended in his head.
Somewhere underlying, however, was the hope that Starc would find his shape, would get the ball to do things that only he could, the swing, the pace, the reversing yorkers.
While he only went on to pick two wickets in the first innings, the obvious criticism was around the corner: 20 overs, 3 maidens, 77 runs conceded for what? One wicket.
Starc’s start was blistering but the end was as expected, drained.
The media is always finding numbers to throw Starc under the bus. But under Justin Langer’s leadership, a strong believer in chances and support, the pacer was going nowhere.
Even if it came at the expense of taking a shot on his former teammate, Langer never shied. That was the confidence and support that Starc wanted. Now more than ever, in a year where everything for him turned from sweet to bitter in that quick notice. A blink and you miss kind of year.
Now that you understand Starc’s life, let us walk in his shoes. You hear that your new ball partner Josh Hazlewood is ruled out. Pat Cummins, the skipper and perhaps, the glue of the bowling unit is also a miss for the second Test. Wouldn’t that make you nervous? Especially after conceding 77 runs in 20 overs?
That’s how leaders are born.
Starc, though not with any official title is a leader. But words aside, he had to lead the young bowling unit with vigor in Adelaide, a pink-ball Test, where he has not competitors. It is his own play and every bowler around him are mere supporting cast members. He stood up, four times in the Test, twice with the bat and twice with the ball.
39*, 19, 4/37 and 2/43, jeez that’s unreal. That isn’t Starc. That’s perhaps Hazlewood or Cummins, definitely not Starc. The denial is real and so was the left-arm pacer’s impact. It was real, it was raw, it was fast and it hit where it pains the most. Six of the seven dismissals until the first innings of the second Test were of the English top six.
And that stretched to eight out of nine by the end of the Test. Starc had arrived, knocked, knackered England’s batters out with raw pace, aggression and just a slightest curve of his wrists. And it hurt the visitors.
The Starc of the Adelaide Oval
Especially after his sublime display, earning the tag of being ‘leader of the pack,’ living up to the Game of Thrones reference, Langer came out in support of Starc. It wasn’t a swing, it was a knock-out blow.
“I honestly thought Mitch Starc was almost man of the match last game. I think his consistency, there has been a lot of talk about Mitch Starc for the last few years, but he just keeps turning up,” Langer said after the second Test.
“He is an unbelievable athlete. He is incredibly fit. Again, he is another one who is much loved around the team. His resilience to just keep coming up over and over and over again is just remarkable really,” he added in awe. Critics from the commentary panel went mute.
He was almost the man of the match in Adelaide. And he came out with fiery pace like he was the only man in the match in Melbourne. If it was Cummins who was reeling away in celebration after the first session, it was Starc’s display in the second that folded the English cards. His meticulous planning, first against Joe Root and later against Jonny Bairstow was commendable.
The fiery Starc
And in the second innings, it was pure fire. The end of day two’s play was perhaps the best bowling display that has been recorded in Test cricket. 45 minutes, three pacers and food for the soul. Brutality, raw and the most sublime spell of Test bowling.
Every delivery that zipped past to the wicketkeeper was followed with oohs and aahs. The 42,000 at the ‘G all in unison, all tense, anxious and yet exhilarated. He didn’t swing the ball back into the right-hander, he didn’t bounce them out but what he did was beyond extraordinary.
It was simple, it was effective and largely threatening. Crawley was walking, Malan was stunned and when Root walked out to face the hattrick delivery, he was thankful of the stars. And perhaps when Root walked back, he was still thanking the stars.
Starc was fast, effective and yet, the most lethal. On the third day, he turned the heat a bit more. Stokes had just punched the ball down the ground. It was a fast start from England but as he has done time and again, Starc delivered.
"Super stuff from Mitchell Starc, straight through the gate, that's an absolute ripper, that's a rip snorter from Mitchell Starc, top of middle stump,” said Shane Warne.
Perhaps, this is finally the arrival of Starc.