India vs Australia: Mitchell Starc's Sri Lanka experience, success against lower order crucial for visitors' chances
It is that experience of bowling on pitches that provided him no assistance, and being part of the ill-fated tour of India in 2013, that will hold Starc in good stead as he takes on the No. 1 ranked India in their own backyard
Mitchell Starc, like his left-handed predecessor in the Australian team and namesake Johnson, possesses the ability that cannot be coached in to a player: sheer pace. With his tall frame and long levers, he generates deadly late movement in the air regularly in excess of 90 miles an hour that has taken its toll on batsmen around the world in all the formats.
Starc has unquestionably assumed the mantle of spearhead of the Australian bowling attack from the capable but sometimes unreliable hands of Johnson. Since his quiet debut as a 21-year-old in 2011 versus New Zealand, and the inconsistent early parts of his career, he has come a long way to become one of the most feared opening bowler in the world. It wasn't until 2015 that Starc was able to continually appear for Australia in Tests, as either injuries or overcautious medical staff trying to give their thoroughbred sufficient rest and rehabilitation time got in his way. Now as a 27-year-old with a body that has fully matured to handle the rigours of fast bowling and the experience of having played around the world and tasted success, Starc, is a permanent fixture in the ICC top ten Test bowler rankings.
Starc is already climbing the charts in the list of left arm pacers' all-time wicket takers list; his career haul of 143 wickets is only behind six others, the list is headed, obviously, by the great Wasim Akram. Of all left arm pacers to have taken more than 50 Test wickets, Starc's strike rate of 49.6 deliveries per wicket is only a smidgen behind fellow Australian Gary Gilmour (49.2).
The strength of Starc is relentlessly attacking the stumps and trapping the batsmen LBW or clean bowling them. Sixty five of his 143 dismissals are either through LBW or Bowled. His ability to generate swing back in to the right handers has been remarkable and most in display during the 2015 Cricket World Cup where he bagged 22 wickets and the Man of the Tournament award. But his strength is also a weakness that allows the batsmen to score runs at a brisk pace even as they are dismissed frequently by the left armer, as indicated by his bowling average of 28.29 per wicket.
Since the New Year's Test of 2015 against India at Sydney, Starc has missed only five of the 25 Tests that Australia have played (three vs. West Indies at home and two vs. New Zealand away) and has taken 98 wickets in those 20 Tests, at an average of 24.65 including five 5-wicket hauls, with the best of 6/50 at Galle in Sri Lanka in an Australian defeat.
Starc was at his threatening best in Sri Lanka as he bagged 27 wickets in the three Tests series even as Australia were whitewashed. He constantly made early inroads with the new ball and provided routine breakthroughs to keep Australia in the Tests. Unfortunately for him, Australia's batsmen could not handle the Sri Lankan spinners to any reasonable level that would have allowed Starc to snatch a victory.
It is that experience of bowling on pitches that provided him no assistance, and being part of the ill-fated tour of India in 2013, that will hold Starc in good stead as he takes on the No. 1 ranked India in their own backyard. Forty three of his career haul 143 wickets are of the opening batsmen, dismissing nine of them before they opened their account, at an average of 27. It is this threat that KL Rahul and Murali Vijay will have to counter to set the platform for the rest of the Indian line up.
If history is anything to go by, and considering the shakiness of India's opening partnership, Starc should be in business, and often. An other aspect of Starc's brilliance will be in limiting the damage that the Indian lower batsmen could inflict on Australia.
In the home series against England and New Zealand, Indian top order were routinely in positions of bother but one of the middle order batsmen generally found company in the lower order of R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Jayant Yadav to post totals that would eventually prove to beyond England. The England bowling attacked lacked an out-and-out pacer who could take the pitch out of question and create breakthroughs through sheer pace. Even as England regularly gave themselves opportunities to move in to a dominant position in the Test, their lack of a genuine quick bowler prevented them from capitalizing on those chances.
Australia will not have to worry. Forty one of Starc's wickets are of batsmen from positions number eight to eleven. He's taken 13 wickets of number eight batsmen at an average of 24, and 28 wickets of nine, ten and jack at averages in single digits. It is this ability to blow the lower order of Starc that could provide sufficient opportunities for Australia to compete with India across the four Tests.
Mitchell Johnson took 21 wickets in his 7 Tests in India while Starc has taken just two wickets in the two Tests he played in India. It is entirely possible, given his current bowling form, and his single-minded devotion to the national side as he withdrew from the IPL auction, that Starc would fly past Johnson by the end of this series. And if he does go well clear of Johnson's India haul, it is well within reason that Australia could achieve something no one is prepared to even consider, a series win.
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