If the Ashes fever hadn't caught on yet, it surely has now, especially in the England camp, after another Mitch bagged two hat-tricks in the same match in Sheffield Shield cricket.
The 27-year-old Mitchell Starc is gearing up for summer quite nicely as he claimed a hat-trick in each innings for New South Wales against Western Australia at Hurstville Oval, Sydney.
So... Mitchell Starc just did THIS in the Sheffield Shield 😳
— Cricket Network (@CricketNetwork) November 6, 2017
The ridiculous record is a rarity in cricket, with the last of its kind coming 38 years back in First-class cricket. All in all, there have been just eight players who have achieved this feat in cricket. Starc's trailblazing show comes with less than three weeks to go for the first Test against England and this spell would surely send a chill down England's spine.
His around-the-wicket angle with the old ball, which worked wonders in the sub-continent — Sri Lanka in particular — is what troubles tail-enders. Both of his hat-tricks came from around-the-wicket, bowling to tail-enders with the ball shaping away from the right handers.
Steven Smith, the Australian skipper and the New South Wales skipper when he claimed the hat-tricks added fuel to England's wounds with his scary comments post the game.
“They've found it pretty hard for a long period of time, the shape that he gets, the angle that he creates when going so wide," Smith had said. "It's difficult for batters, let alone tail-enders. To take two hat-tricks in a game. Most people are lucky to take one in their career. They're not easy to come by.”
Cutting off the tail
Starc's efficiency against the tail would worry England who bat pretty deep and have had sizeable contributions from the lower order in the recent past. In fact, the left-arm seamer's numbers against the tail in Test cricket are mind-boggling.
Starc's averages against batsmen at positions 9, 10 and 11 read 7.77, 6.18 and 2.87. Of the 28 times he has dismissed players playing at these batting positions, eight have been ducks, emphasising the short life-span at the crease the tail endure when Starc is bowling from one end. What is even more scary is that of the 28 dismissals he has affected in the lower order, 17 have been bowled or LBW, another sign of how his vicious yorker works wonders against the clueless tail.
Recent form and history
For an England fan, Starc's numbers only gets scarier.
The Australian is returning from a foot injury he suffered during the Indian series and has undergone a recovery program. He missed the Bangladesh Tests and is now fit and raring to go.
The last time he was down was in 2015, when he underwent an ankle surgery and missed the first few months of 2016. Even then he was menacing enough to win Australia's Test player of the year in 2016, roaring back to form after the surgery.
Australia had endured a horrendous time, losing five matches in succession (to Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka and South Africa at home) but Starc was a silver lining amongst the cloud.
Starc’s form since returning from the hospital bed that time around had been compelling. He finished with 52 wickets at an average of 24.29, taking three five-wicket hauls during the time period.
If history is to believed, the left-arm seamer doesn't relish spells on the sidelines and returns with a vengeance. The sensational hat-trick this week is further proof that Starc is itching to don the Aussie whites and devour the English.
Against the top-order
England are in a dreamy world if they sit back and think that Starc is only menacing against the tail. His record against top-order batsmen is equally impressive.
Against positions one and two in the batting order, Starc averages 24.37 and 30.10 respectively and 44 of his 148 Test wickets have come against the openers. Interestingly, 10 of these 44 have been ducks and a further 12 have been in single digits, something which reveals the kind of success Starc has had with the brand new cherry in hand.
In fact, from the start of 2015 to the end of last year, the 27-year old picked up 19 wickets in the first over of an innings across formats. Alarmingly, during this period, he struck in the first over in three consecutive Tests.
How the England top-order line up
England have had so many personnel coming in to partner Alastair Cook in the past few years that he himself must have lost count. Mark Stoneman is set to partner Cook on this Ashes adventure and will most likely be followed by James Vince or Gary Ballance since Joe Root himself is adamant on sticking to the No 4 spot.
With Cook-Stoneman-Vince/Ballance, a lot of England's hopes would rest on the former skipper, Alastair Cook. The left-hander is someone Australia would look to open up early on, particularly given his exceptional record in Australia.
But Cook might have a chink in his armour. Against left-arm pace, the opener averages just 36.20, a considerable difference from his career average of 46.33.
Stoneman, his likely partner, has an average of 30.00 after 3 Tests and was undone by Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel in England two months back. That said, he is a decent enough player and England did the right thing to carry him to Australia. But can he hold up against the menacing Starc and Hazlewood?
Gary Ballance has been in and out of the Test side and if rumours are to believed, he is there in the squad only because his skipper plays for the same County side (Yorkshire). Ballance has a tendency to hang back onto his back-foot, something which puts him at a disadvantage when facing fuller balls on the stumps, thus making him vulnerable to Starc's yorkers.
James Vince, on the other hand, has played 7 Tests, making 212 runs at an average of 19.27. That he was picked was in itself a huge surprise but he has redeemed his reputation a bit with a promising knock in the first warm-up game in Australia.
Putting two and two together
The obvious conclusion from all this is that England should not only be wary of Mitchell Starc but hope and pray that he injures himself before the Ashes because another 'Mitch-attack’ looms prominently ahead of the Ashes.
"I'll be trying to bowl fast. Whether that happens straight away is yet to be seen, but I won't be holding back. Looking forward to playing cricket again and trying to terrorise a few batsmen, take a few wickets,” Starc had said before surging back to form with a twin hat-trick in the Sheffield Shield.
England's top order has obvious, glaring drawbacks and Starc is too good a bowler to not exploit that. Given his searing pace and penchant for openers, England's task is cut out. Add to that, Cook's fragility against left-arm seam and the inexperience of the rest in the top 3, and you have a recipe for failure.
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