While almost everyone invested faith in Nathan Lyon for the slow nature of Durban deck, Mitchell Starc dished out a firey spell of fast bowling on the same deck. He used the angle from the round the wicket and exhibited reverse swing to outclass the South African batting lineup.
Prior to the start of the Test, South Africa were overwhelming favourites going into the match, but two days into the series opener, the pendulum has swung in Australia’s favour massively. After getting a competitive 351 on an abrasive Durban wicket, Australian bowlers wreaked havoc to dismantle South Africa for a modest 162. The visitors now have a match-winning lead of 189 runs on a surface that is likely to deteriorate further.
Both the sides are blessed with a lethal pace attack, they have superstars in their line-ups, but the surface was not assistive enough for the seamers as anticipated. They dished out seam-friendly wickets in the series against India, but that was not the scenario against Australia. The Aussies are a dominating side when it comes to pace, they have been a force to be reckoned, pace is their strength. South African batsmen did struggle against the Indian pace attack and it seems that they didn’t want to take any chance at least for the first Test.
Starc is hailed as the best white ball bowler, he is intimidating at the crease and typifies Australian brand of cricket. Make no mistake, he is equally effective with the red ball as well. He has been the reason behind nightmares for many batsmen and this innings was just another testament to his effectiveness on surfaces that are not responsive.
For South Africa, left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj was the pick of the bowlers with his fifer, which is rare in the first innings of a Test in South Africa. Nathan Lyon drew the first blood by getting rid of Dean Elgar and then the mighty Hashim Amla in his very first over. After Lyon’s first over, it was very clear that spin will make all the difference and he will have a key role to play. But soon enough, things started changing.
Starc got the ball to reverse and made the most of it. He was quick, he was accurate, he was right on the money. Starc is one bowler, who knows how to exploit the conditions. At first, he got rid of South African skipper Faf du Plessis and then Theunis de Bruyn to steer his side to a commanding position. He is widely reckoned for his effectiveness against the tail-enders and didn’t disappoint on this occasion. He kept it simple, he kept it full to clean up the South African tail. He overshadowed Lyon on a surface that was turning and had bounce to finish with five wickets under his belt for 34.
Mitchell Marsh hailed Starc as the best in the world when it comes to reverse swing. “In my opinion, when it’s reversing like that he’s the best in the world. Reverse-swing bowling, when you’re bowling at that sort pace, is near-on impossible to play. We saw that today and hopefully we can have a good day tomorrow. We know that all three of our guys are world-class reverse swing bowlers. It’s going to be hard work for South Africa,” Marsh was quoted by cricket.com.au.
Not just with the ball, Starc is a handy customer when it comes to taking guard. His cameo of 35 from 25 deliveries, gave Australia that edge. It is often said that runs from the tail-enders are always frustrating for the opposition and bonus for the side garnering it. Starc not only broke the shackles but also eased a lot of pressure from Marsh with his cameo.
Australian skipper Steven Smith highlighted Starc’s contribution. “It was crucial for Australia’s momentum and the fact they got 350. Mitch Marsh played beautifully, but the game just stagnated in many ways – 25 runs in the first hour. Starc walked out and made it look a different game. It helped open up Mitch Marsh in many ways. It broke the momentum and South Africa went from having control and having fielders everywhere and lost a bit of the game,” Smith told cricket.com.au.
At times, when a bowler starts scoring runs, he generates a false confidence and starts thinking like a batsman, which is not helpful. It seems Starc was going through a similar phase and spoke about it. “It’s probably the best way I play. I probably got stuck in two minds during the summer batting at eight and thinking I had to bat like a batsman and went away from what I do best. I tend to see ball hit ball. It paid off today, there might be times that it doesn’t and it is the way I go forward now,” Starc told SEN.
One shouldn’t be surprised if Starc stands out on slow tracks. He has mastered the art of seam bowling on slow tracks and his incredible run in Sri Lanka in 2016 corroborates the belief. There was clear daylight between him and his teammates on that tour. On surfaces, where spinners did the talking, Starc was hogging all the headlines with his pace and accuracy.
South Africa are yet to register a Test win against Australia at home after readmission. And by looking at the way things have fared so far, one wouldn’t be wrong in saying that Durban would be Australia’s game. Not to forget, South Africa will be batting in the fourth innings on a wicket that is expected to deteriorate.
For now, Starc has been the centre of attraction not just for his batting, but also for his astute bowling. He has led the pace attack with example and South Africa need to come out with a plan against the lanky left-arm pacer.