Mitchell in Starc contrast to 2019 & 2015- The New Indian Express



Express News Service

AHMEDABAD: The Australian quicks were practicing on one of the side pitches at the Narendra Modi Stadium. They were defending 287 so they did have some runs to play with. One of the bowlers, Mitchell Starc, was marking his run-up. In less than 10 minutes, he would open against a very familiar foe, Jonny Bairstow. Normally, you would expect Starc, a modern-day World Cup GOAT, to be in the conversation for ‘leading wicket-taker’ as well as ‘spell of the tournament’. This time out, he’s been so below par he would probably take the new ball for an ‘Underwhelming XI’ at the World Cup.

It was time to set the record straight under the bright lights of the Stadium. So just as dusk gave way to night, Starc remembered his primary role in this Australian side. While he wouldn’t have counted on a leg-side strangle for his first wicket, his celebrations told a story. Bairstow was on his way for a first-ball duck. In his third over, he had another; Joe Root feathering one through to the keeper while trying to run the ball down.

In and of itself, these aren’t classical Starc dismissals with the new ball (leg-before and bowled). But the traditional Starc spell with the new ball has been conspicuous by its absence. Which is a surprise because his first spell of the event — 3-0-6-1 — was on point. It also comprised the wicket of Ishan Kishan, who flashed at a ball that was moving away from him. His economy of 5.45 in the powerplay across seven league games is the most he has gone for (3.66 in 2015 and 5.33 in 2019). While he’s been consistently finding some movement in the early part of games — one graphic on TV suggested he was among the top five in terms of this metric till a few matches ago — he has played on some flat decks. Think back to the games against Pakistan at Bengaluru (3-0-28-0) and New Zealand at Dharamsala (2-0-18-0).

He returned with combined figures of 1/154 in 17 overs, not a good look for a pacer with such a pedigreed record in this competition. That match against the Black Caps also put a halt in the speedster’s unique record of picking up at least one wicket in all the World Cup encounters he has played in. After 23 matches, the machine had broken down.   

While skipper Pat Cummins was all praise for him a few matches ago, he would like his leading bowler to rediscover the music that has kept him relevant for so long. “I think in 50-over cricket there’s the new ball, the middle phase and the last phase and it’s pretty hard to nail all three, but I think he’s one of the rare bowlers that swings it up front, but you can basically give him the ball at any time and you feel like he’s going to create something and again I think he just keeps getting better and better,” Cummins had said. “He’s wobbling the ball across right-handers, he’s bowling round the wicket probably more than he did in, say 2015, he’s got plenty of tools at his disposal and it’s pretty amazing he’s been able to keep up the pace for that long as well.”

It’s also somewhat curious to see him struggling because left-arm pacers have been amongst the wickets. Dilshan Madushanka (18 wickets), Marco Jansen (16) and Shaheen Afridi (16) are among the four leading wicket-takers at this stage. While his effectiveness with the new ball has come down in terms of picking up wickets, Starc is also missing that potency with the old ball. 

In 2019, he picked up 11 wickets at an economy of 4.96 in the last 10 overs. This time? With the ball not reversing enough for the southpaw, he has visibly struggled to retain control. He has gone at 7.44 and has picked up just four wickets. Worrying signs for five-time champions as they seek another tilt at global gold. 

On Saturday night, the 33-year-old took baby steps towards addressing what has been a below average global event by his standards. With Afghanistan up next, what’s on the menu is clear. More new ball wickets and some control at the death.

Brief scores: Australia 286 in 49.3 ovs (Labuschagne 71, Smith 44; Woakes 4/54) bt England 253 in 48.1 ovs (Stokes 64; Zampa 3/21).

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