Thank God for Mitchell Starc!

Date: August 6, 2016 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

starcAustralia is on the brink of a humiliating defeat at Galle. If the weather does not intervene the second Test will be over inside three days.

After being humbled for 106 in the first innings – its lowest total against Sri Lanka – Australia was set 413 to win. It will start day three at 3-25.

On the back of the capitulation in the series opener at Pallekele, Australia will concede the series with a match to play. The world number one ranked side will leave the island with its tail between its legs.

Amongst the havoc, however, has been one bright light – in fact, more of a beacon shining in the gloom.

Mitchell Starc has shown all and sundry that he is the real deal and the man whom the Australian attack will be built around in coming years. He was good at Pallekele with 2-51 and 4-84.

At Galle, he was brilliant – on a pitch that has traditionally had spinners salivating. A first innings haul of 5-44 was followed by a career best 6-50. His match figures of 11-94 the best by an Australian bowler against Sri Lanka. Those figures are also the best by an Australian quick in Asia since Geoff Dymock’s 12 wickets against India at Kanpur in 1979

Given Starc’s performance it is hard to believe that his team was set over 400 runs to win.

Australian fans have been waiting for Starc to transfer his white ball form to the longer game. Over the past 20 months he has transformed himself from an intermittent Test cricketer into arguably his side’s most valuable player.

In December 2014, Starc was dropped from the team after a lacklustre performance in the opening Test of the summer at the Gabba against India. His axing came in the wake of comments made in commentary by Shane Warne.

Never one to mince his words, Warne said Starc looked “a bit soft” and appeared to be “nonchalant” in the way he went about his work. What followed was a war of words with both Starc and his coach, Darren Lehmann responding to Warne’s accusations.

Remarkably, when Starc was sent packing after that Gabba Test it marked the 11th time he had been dropped in a career that had realised just 14 matches.

For Starc, Australian Test representation was a revolving door. He was never given more than three consecutive Tests to prove himself.

Since his recall – at Sydney against India in January 2015 – only injury has seen him omitted. In that period, he has played 13 Tests for 63 wickets at the stellar average of 21.9. His strike rate has been a staggering 38.2.

Always recognised as a handful in the limited overs arena, he seemed incapable early in his Test career of transferring the incisive swing that was the hallmark of his white ball bowling into Test ranks.

That all seemed to change after he was awarded the man-of-the-series award at the World Cup in March last year.

He was the cornerstone of Australia’s attack as it surged to a fifth World Cup title, capturing 22 wickets at 10.2. A lethal combination of pace and swing wreaked havoc throughout the tournament. His exocet-like yorkers regularly shattered the stumps.

In the West Indies in June last year he started to convert that form to the red ball. He relished the reasonably barren pitches where he was able to make the most of reverse swing, picking up ten wickets at 16.0 in the two Tests.

He continued to hone his long form cricket during last winter’s Ashes and started last summer with 13 wickets at 23.2 in the three Tests against the Black Caps.

Injury ruled him out of the three-Test series against the West Indies after suffering a stress fracture in his foot during the historic Adelaide day-night Test against the Kiwis. He was still sidelined when Australia played its two Tests in New Zealand, only returning to the international arena in May in the Caribbean for the one-day tri-series against the Windies and South Africa.

In Sri Lanka, Starc hit the ground running. In both Tests he has shown the ability to claim valuable top-order wickets with the new ball and later exploit the conditions with reverse swing.

One of the keys to his success in Sri Lanka has been the full length he has bowled with the associated swing undoing many of his opponents.

Like many high class left-arm pace bowlers he operates very effectively from around the wicket with his late in-tailing swing to the right handers causing significant problems.

Starc is now the undisputed leader of Steve Smith’s Test attack. He has been ably supported during this series by a miserly Josh Hazlewood, with the lanky New South Welshman claiming seven wickets at 20.6. But, it is Starc who has been the class act in an otherwise lacklustre squad.

Once this series is consigned to history Australia will focus on the summer ahead. It looms as a testing time for Australia with twin three-match series against South Africa and a resurgent Pakistan.

All Australian fans will be hoping that Mitchell Starc’s star continues to rise in the months ahead.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 6 August 2016, soliciting 36 comments