Mitchell Starc is back, finally…….
In our fascinating sport, there always happen to be a few sportspersons for whom we develop a kind of soft corner in our hearts. We just can’t see them struggling at the 22-yards. Our heart pains when they underperform and let me remind you that this is an opposition-neutral feeling that we experience. And experience we should, as we all are humans and our feelings are the fine line which distinguishes us from the wild variety of life from which we have evolved. One such persona is the Australian paceman, Mitchell Starc.
After making his Test debut against New Zealand way back in 2011, he consistently shuffled in and out of the national whites, partly due to inconsistency and partly due to injuries. But 2015 came in as the breakthrough year when Starc grabbed 46 scalps from 11 Tests he featured into that year. Those scalps came at an average of just 25 runs apiece, with him getting a wicket every 45th ball he sent down that year. That was also the first time, minimum of five Tests in a year, his Test bowling average registered a figure below thirty.
Those were brilliant numbers and the cricketing fraternity immediately rolled its eyeballs over the 6ft 5inch lanky paceman from New South Wales. His pace was the X-factor as he regularly breached the 145 km mark, but his ability to move the ball in the air as well as off the pitch at such raw pace served as the X-factor over which his dominance in the world cricketing arena was to be built. Moreover, he also had one more weapon in his bowling armoury, and arguably his most potent, and that was his ability to generate reverse swing at a great pace. His ‘ball of the summer’ in the last Ashes to dismiss James Vince serves as the perfect example of this dangerous skill of his. You can watch it below in the link-
A brilliant 2015 was backed up by an even better 2016 when he took fifty wickets in just eight games at a brilliant average of just over 22 runs per dismissal. That was the year when he established his credentials firmly in the cricketing galore as one of the leading bowlers in business all over the world. One of the highlights of these two years was his crucial involvement in Australia’s world cup winning campaign in 2015 of which he was adjudged the ‘Man of the Series’. Those were the hey-days of his short career so far as it was the year 2017 from where the slide began.
Although his performance didn’t drop to a level which can be termed as alarming as 26 wickets in six matches at an average of just above 26, can’t be termed as bad but the slide was evident. His dismal returns in the India leg of Border Gavaskar Trophy where he took just five wickets from the two games that he played, before bowing out due to injury, also played a crucial role in pulling that average down. But ignominy was yet to come in the form of a horrible 2018.
Australian cricket went into the deepest trenches in that year. The Sandpaper Gate and the subsequent bans over the then Skipper Steve Smith, David Warner, and Cameron Bancroft greatly hallowed the Team’s strength. The criticism and the shame were hurled not just at the banned trio but at the Australian team as a whole. Spirits were down and a loss of form couldn’t have come at a darker time for the premier Aussie pacer.
The three series that Starc was a part of in 2018 were against South Africa in their backyard, against Pakistan in UAE and the high-octane summer clash against the Indians. Each of the three series was a failure for him at a personal level as he recorded averages above thirty in each one of them with the best of 34.42 coming against South Africa in a humiliatingly losing cause. Australia lost the Pakistan series 0-1 after escaping with a brilliantly fought draw in Dubai in the first Test. Starc was severely criticized by fans and experts alike for failing to generate enough venom with the ball as he finished the two Tests with just four wickets against his name. His criticism came in light of Mohammad Abbas, disciplined paceman of Pakistan, topping the bowling charts with 17 wickets in the same number of Tests.
The return to home comforts after a painful beating in UAE was expected to bring with it the good luck that the Australian team, in general, and Starc, in particular, needed very badly. But the Gods had decided not to budge and Starc remained ineffective almost throughout the series with some exceptions here and there. While Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins bowled with great relentlessness, Starc struggled to find his mojo in almost every game of the series. Five of his 13 wickets in the series came on the fast, bouncy deck of the new Perth Stadium which India went on to lose by 146 runs – the only consolation that Aussies, and particularly Starc, managed throughout that gruelling series.
A meagre return of eight wickets from three games in your home comforts is not what makes you a modern day great and so was the case with Starc who was criticized from every nook and corner of the cricketing world so much so that his wife had to come in his defense over the social media. He was said to be wayward in operation and was termed to be a shadow of the relentless workhorse that he was once known as in the international arena. It is when the chips are down and everything seems to be going south, you get the choice either to let it affect yourself permanently or lets you chart for yourself a path to redemption. And Starc is doing exactly the same in this ongoing second Test against Sri Lanka in Canberra.
After having another meek performance in the first Test at the Gabba, where he returned with match figures of 2 for 97 when Sri Lanka couldn’t even touch the 200-run mark in either inning, Starc decided to reincarnate into the bowler he is renowned world over. It all started in the last session of the Day 2 when he gave a really tough time to the Sri Lankan openers, Dimuth Karunaratne, and Lahiru Thirimanne, in their effort to stitch together an 82-run opening stand which was stopped midway when a searing Pat Cummins bouncer left Karunaratne hazy after striking him just above the neck on the backside of his head. He was immediately stretchered away while Lyon broke through the patience of Thirimanne to set the platform for a Starc assault.
The assault started with the ripper that took Dinesh Chandimal by surprise who found it hard to stay away from the line and eventually gloved the cherry into the safe hands of Tim Paine behind the stumps. The rest of the batsmen found Starc too hot to handle as he registered his tenth five-wicket haul in Tests. There was that famous ‘Starc smile’ and relief was writ large over his face as he held the ball aloft after dismissing the Lankan team for a paltry 215 in their first essay. That smile was the signal that the warrior has found his mojo back and the ominous (for the batsmen) road to redemption has seriously begun.