Mitchell Starc – a name that strikes fear into the hearts of contemporary batsmen. It is hard to fathom that the tall, skinny lad from Sydney, who was once an aspiring wicketkeeper in juni…
Mitchell Starc – a name that strikes fear into the hearts of contemporary batsmen. It is hard to fathom that the tall, skinny lad from Sydney, who was once an aspiring wicketkeeper in junior cricket, would one day become the most menacing sight for the world’s best batsmen.
Legend has it, that a tall, lanky 14-year-old was spotted by a club coach trying out as a wicketkeeper for the Western Suburbs. He pulled the young man aside and demanded that he ditch the wicketkeeping mitts – and that he would teach him how to bowl. The AFL’s fabled method of scouting a body-type and building a particular skill around it seemed to be at work again, as it tends to work in favour of the player’s ability and aptitude.
It is a tried and tested method. Case in point: three decades ago, Dennis Lillee, then in charge of the MRF pace foundation, told a 14-year-old Indian boy of short stature that he couldn’t be a fast bowler. Following the incident, the aspiring fast bowler, changed lanes and took up batting. We all know how that turned out…
Starc, the teenager, seemed to have grasped fast-bowling quite quickly, picking up the fundamentals from the aforementioned coach, Neil D’Costa, and bowling at 135km/h by the time he was 16. In addition to athletic ability, he was said to have great discipline and an undying thirst for knowledge. Most crucially, however, he was a great listener, according to D’Costa. Soon after, he was selected for the New South Wales U-17s, and continued to rise through the ranks.
After impressive performances in junior cricket, he was finally handed a Sheffield Shield debut for the New South Wales at the age of 19, and managed just 2 wickets in the match. In the following Shield season, he took 21 wickets in 8 matches including an impressive 5 for 74 against Queensland. The first run of consistent performances by Starc came in the domestic one-day tournament when he took 26 wickets in 6 matches at an average of 8.12, striking once every 12 balls. Starc was named the player of the tournament, as the young prodigy catapulted his team to victory. This proved to be the turning point in his career and finally propelled him into the limelight for national selection.
At 20, Starc was named in the squad as a backup quick bowler for the short Test series in India, late in 2010. Unfortunately, he didn’t get his hands on the coveted Baggy Green during that tour, as the Aussies already had a left-arm pacer (Mitchell Johnson) in their playing XI. Right-arm bowler Peter George was given preference over him in the second Test, and Starc had to be content with warming the bench and bowling in the nets.
Owing to a plethora of injuries in the team and stellar domestic performances, he finally received the Baggy Green, playing New Zealand at the Gabba in late 2011. His debut Test was largely underwhelming, as he leaked runs at an alarming rate and took only 2 wickets in the match. He took 2 further wickets in the succeeding Hobart Test and didn’t impress much with his control, clocking in the higher 130s, struggling to swing the Kookaburra, and most importantly, lacking intensity. He continued to get limited chances, as he was dropped from the squad for the first two home Tests against India, but got his opportunity in the third Test on a hostile Perth wicket. He fared much better on this tour, showing better control and the ability to move the ball both ways in the air. Most notably, he had the great Sachin Tendular playing down the wrong line and got him out LBW.
However, he still hadn’t performed well enough to cement his spot in the side, given the fiercely competitive assembly of fast-bowlers in the Australian circuit. To sharpen his skills and increase his versatility, he needed to travel and acclimatize himself to different conditions. He went to England and had a stint in county cricket with Yorkshire to learn the nuances and finer points of swinging the Dukes ball.
There was something that he did right in England. Because the man who returned was Mitchell Starc 2.0.
Upon return to international cricket, he notched up three 5-wicket hauls in quick succession against the West Indies and Pakistan in early 2014, thereby cementing his spot in ODI side. This ensured that he got more backing with the red cherry as well, but things weren’t quite as smooth-sailing in Tests, especially because he was hit by a string of injuries during the 2013/14 season. To make things worse, Starc went wicketless in 4 out of 10 Test innings leading upto 2nd innings of the Brisbane Test against India in December 2014.
After another wicketless performance, which was becoming the talk of the town amongst the critics, Shane Warne publicly made a statement urging Starc ‘to change his body-language’ and that he seemed ‘too soft’. This could’ve been meant as constructive criticism or a spiteful comment. He also had the looming prospect of the upcoming World Cup in mind.
Something had lit a fire under him.
He was not content with being the ODI spearhead. He was working on his Test game and wanted to establish himself as the leader of the attack in all forms of the game. The Carlton tri-series, about a month before the World Cup, was a sign of things to come. He was the highest wicket-taker of the series, bagging a best of 6/43 and a total of 12 wickets with his searing yorkers. But the stats won’t tell you about the pace he had put on, hurling in toe-crushers at close to 150km/h. This was the trial run of the Frankenstein’s monster; the calm before the storm.
And thus began the fairy tale of Mitchell Aaron Starc.
The monster was unleashed upon the unsuspecting teams, who had just landed Down Under for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 hosted by Australia and New Zealand. Starc tore through batting line-ups consistently, generating express pace throughout the tournament and tormenting batsmen with a blend of chin music and searing toe-crushing yorkers. His dream-run continued in the World Cup final as he returned with miserly figures of 8-1-20-2. More importantly, he picked up the prized scalp of Brendon McCullum, who had been ferocious against the new ball throughout the tournament, for a duck.
Unsurprisingly, he was declared the man of the tournament, picking up 22 wickets in the tournament at an average of 10.18 and a startling economy rate of 3.50 (in a tournament which saw 28 300+ totals and 3 400+ totals being scored). Starc shot to the number 1 spot in the ICC ODI rankings after the break-through World Cup campaign. He consequently joined a league of extraordinary gentlemen (which includes Glenn McGrath and Sachin Tendulkar) to have won the Man of the Tournament award in a World Cup.
The World Cup was a landmark tournament for Starc, and it was only after he had established himself as the spearhead of the Australian attack in all formats, that he finally opened himself up to the IPL in 2014. Starc garnered a lot of praise for prioritizing international duties over franchise-based T20 cricket. 2015 continued to be his golden year in terms of numbers as well as fitness, as he broke the 160km/h barrier against New Zealand at WACA Test in November 2015. He picked up the highest number of international wickets in the 2015 calendar year as well (87) and continued his upward climb, establishing himself as an indispensable asset for Australian cricket.
After a series of injuries, especially to his landing foot, he started to pick and choose his series, resting himself enough to play the more important series. He strengthened his away record in the 2016 Test series in Sri Lanka, picking up career-best figures of 11/94 at Galle, albeit in a losing cause. In the closely fought Ashes in 2015, Starc impressed again with 18 wickets, the highest wicket-taker for the Australians in the series (second-highest overall), further improving his overseas credentials.
In February 2017, Starc parted ways with the Royal Challengers Bangalore to focus on international cricket, once again exhibiting that the national team remains his first priority. However, he has only played 10 games over the years for the Sixers, taking 20 wickets and conceding at a rate of 7.92 runs an over. He was the third-highest wicket-taker in the inaugural Big Bash League, picking up 13 wickets and leading the Sixers to the title with his fiery bowling. He has been a part of the Sydney Sixers’ squad for five seasons of the BBL, and will be a key player in BBL 07, his sixth season with the side.
During the build-up to the 2017/18 Ashes in Australia, Starc once again pulled off the unfathomable, picking up 2 hat-tricks in a Sheffield Shield match against Western Australia in Sydney, becoming the first man to achieve this feat. In the ongoing Ashes series at home, Starc (unsurprisingly) tops the wicket-taking charts once again (as of the 3rd Test at Perth), with 19 wickets in 3 Tests. This includes a best of 5/88 at Adelaide as he bowled his team to victory. His dismissal of James Vince in the 2nd innings of the Perth Test was hailed as ‘the ball of the 21st century’: it was headed to go down leg side, hit a crack, and deviated almost half a meter(42cm) to hit the top of off-stump. More importantly, it was a crucial wicket in the context of the match, as Vince had made a half-century and was well on course to pull off a blockathon to save the Test.
Being an express-pace bowler, he might not top too many all-time wicket-taking charts; but considering his performances in the 2015 World Cup and his subsequent away performances in Tests, he has already etched his name in history as one of Australia’s greatest fast bowlers. Given his surfeit of milestones and accolades, it is scarcely believable that he is only in his twenties, and Australia have a good 5 years to find and nurture their next express-pace-bowling spearhead…
But until then, after a grueling journey paving his way into the Australian fast-bowling ranks, Mitchell Starc is here to stay. Injuries have once again derailed him as he missed the entire 2018-19 season but continues to be a vital player for his national side, especially with the World Cup around.
– Starc is of Slovenian descent.
– Mitchell’s younger brother, Brandon, is an Olympic high-jumper, having represented Australia in the Rio games in 2016 (Game of Thrones reference, anyone?).
– When Starc toured India in 2013, he was dismissed for a heart-breaking 99 in the Mohali Test. In the same Test, he also became the first batsman lower-order batsman (positions 9-11) to have survived over 100 balls in each innings.
– Starc got married to Alyssa Healy (a wicketkeeper for the Australian womens’ team and niece of former Australia glovesman, Ian Healy) on the 15th of April 2015, 17 days after lifting the World Cup trophy at the MCG.
World Cup through the years
Leading wicket-taker in the 2015 World Cup, Starc’s form was one of major reasons for Australia’s title triumph in that edition. He swung the new ball prodigiously and was also lethal in the death overs with his yorkers. Injuries may have ripped him in recent years but the left-arm pacer continues to be a big threat in the shorter formats. Although England pitches aren’t as favorable to swing bowling in white- ball cricket, Starc’s ability to take the surface out of the equation means that he will be a potent force in Australia’s bowling unit. The only concern is the rustiness that’s bound to be there, considering that he has had a long lay off with injuries. But, it’s happened before too and trust Starc to bring his A-game on the grandest stage of ODI cricket.