A bowler’s life in a batsman dominated game is dreary, there is hardly any room for error and has to be outstanding to achieve success. Australian pace spearhead, Mitchell Starc, certainly belongs to that elite league of bowlers for his terrifying bowling and qualities that typify the Australian kind of cricket. Lightening struck Australia when Starc’s right foot scan revealed a stress fracture midway through the India-Australia Test series and was subsequently ruled out of the last two Tests. It’s not just Starc, the bowler, who Australia is going to miss dearly, but also the belligerent batsman, who gets crucial runs lower down the order.
Prior to the start of the series, one could have crystal glazed and see India thrashing Australia in the four-match Test series. But, it wasn’t to be. Australia left no stone unturned in their preparations and punched above their weight in the Pune Test to create an upset and set the alarm ringing in the Indian dugout. They came out hard and won the first Test by a whopping margin of 333 runs, which was also India’s second biggest defeat at home in terms of runs. To add to India’s woes, they were bowled out for 105 and 107 in the two innings respectively, which was also the very first occasion where the hosts were decimated under 110 in both the innings of a Test match on home soil. Starc was instrumental behind this milestone.
Let’s introspect Starc’s performance in the Pune Test: Australia were reeling at 205 for 9 when Starc took charge and launched an attack on the Indian bowlers. His 61-run knock in the first innings provided impetus and pulled things back for Australia, giving their bowlers a psychological advantage by crossing the 25-run mark. Australia had 260 runs on a pitch, which looked difficult for batting. Had Starc been dismissed early like his imminent peers, what score would Australia have managed? They would have been definitely short of 50-55 runs from their eventual tally, which would have put India on the front foot.
Starc set the tone up by scalping the consistent Cheteshwar Pujara and an on-song Virat Kohli in the very same over. This was undoubtedly a key moment in the match as the spine of Indian batting was broken within a span of three deliveries. Kohli has been unstoppable across formats and his early fall is always a boon for any opposition, which Starc ensured he did for his side. He tempted Kohli with a wide half-volley early on in his innings and managed a thick edge off his prolific blade. Pujara, on the other hand, has an uncanny knack of scoring big, but fell prey to Starc’s persistence. India were reduced to 44 for 3 and more importantly, the two run-machines were back in the pavilion. With an inexperienced KL Rahul and a struggling Rahane at the crease, the game was well open for the Australians to grab.
In the second innings, Starc chipped in with a brisk 30 as Australia set a 441-run target for India to chase. He hardly bowled a couple of overs in the second innings as Australian spinners wreaked havoc and carried the team over the line.
India returned from the dead in the Bangalore Test and squared the series with a much-needed win. Starc did reasonably well in claiming three wickets and had 27 odd runs with the bat. With the series being evenly poised, one can expect both the teams to come out hard and give it all to take a lead in the Ranchi Test. And, in such a heated moment, Australia are extremely unfortunate to miss out on their primary weapon. Starc’s strength lies in his accuracy, zip and the extra bounce, which he generates with his high arm action. Apart from his natural in-swinger, Starc banks on hitting the right areas and gets the old ball to reverse. And one doesn’t need to speak about his ability to bowl toe-crushing yorkers at will.
Starc is the most experienced bowler from the current Australian crop and has done a remarkable job in the subcontinent. When Australia toured Sri Lanka for a three-match series recently, Starc’s run was the one of the moments of glory for the languishing Australian side. On pitches, which were conducive for spinners, Starc steamed in and bagged 24 wickets in three Tests at a staggering average of 15.16. What makes Starc’s run a splendid one? The fact that Sri Lankan spinners accounted for 45 out of the 49 Australian wickets, proves the kind of discipline and hard work Starc exhibited in that series. During the course, Starc also became the first Australian bowler to have claimed a 10-wicket haul in the last 36 years in the sub-continent. He was not only hitting the timber, but also caught them leg before along with sneaking fine edges to the keeper. But his performance was camouflaged by his team’s disheartening whitewash.
Starc’s awe-inspiring figures of 6 for 50 in the second innings of Galle Test is the best bowling record by an Australian bowler in Sri Lanka. If there is any assistance in the pitch for the seamers, Starc will indubitably exploit it to the fullest. And his performance in Sri Lanka was a testament to the fact that Starc doesn’t need a pitch, but a ball to make an impact. His absence in the line-up will definitely have a huge impact on the fighting Australian side.
“It will have a huge impact. Mitchell Starc is that X-factor for the Australian team. I think he will certainly be missed,” said former Australian skipper Michael Clarke to the reporters. Visitors have named Pat Cummmins as a replacement, who is potent of doing well in the Indian conditions but, Starc’s shoes will be too big to fill. Cummins has played a solitary Test and grabbed the Man of the Match award for his magnificent accomplishment in his only Test outing.
An early kill is like gold dust in any format, and Starc has mastered this art across formats. With India being unable to find a prolific opening pair, Starc would have been the best to exploit this weakness in the next two games. In the series so far, Starc bowled with precision and sheer discipline, which may contradict with his numbers. But it has also been a spinners paradise at both the venues.
Australia have silent their harshest critics with some sturdy performances in the series so far. They almost did everything right at Bangalore and it wouldn’t be wrong in saying that they lost the game to a match-winning partnership between Pujara and Rahane. The duo weathered the storm and stitched a crucial 118-run partnership for the fifth wicket, which gave the home side a nod ahead in the Test.
Australia have not won a single Test in India since 2004-05, though they have shrugged off this record, they also have a golden chance to win the series from here on. If Australia are eyeing a series win at this stage, which is quite achievable, then Cummins and Hazlewood will have to step up and make up for Starc’s absence. With momentum being with the home side after a win, and Starc being unavailabe, Australia have a mountain to climb at Ranchi.