Mitchell Starc is without doubt one of the most talented young cricketers in the world. At just 23 he has already shown that he should be a match-winner for Australia for years to come. But at the moment he is creating more problems for Michael Clarke than he is solving, and he is flattering to deceive.
The Old Trafford Test was a case in point and will have given the selectors some serious thinking to do about whether the team would be better off with the steadiness of Jackson Bird in Durham today. Starc had a statistically impressive match with a highly impressive 66 no and three wickets, but the consistent waywardness of his bowling must surely be questioned.
There was only one session of that Test that Australia didn’t control, and that was the middle session on day three when Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell led a premeditated assault on Nathan Lyon. Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Shane Watson were able to help limit the damage, but Starc and Lyon were both liabilities at a time when Australia desperately needed at least one of them to stand up.
Starc had two spells with the second new ball : one lasted two overs, the next lasted three, and the only person under pressure from his flailing deliveries was Brad Haddin. The fact that he returned to the attack later in the day and took the wickets of Pietersen and Jonny Bairstow shouldn’t camouflage the problem. The moment was lost.
This has been a theme in Starc’s brief career and the reason why the obvious comparison with Mitchell Johnson is often made. When Australia lost in Perth to South Africa last December there was an extended session where Hashim Amla and his mates scored 170. Again Starc was a major culprit, yet he took five wickets and later scored 99. In India it was a similar story, although a foot problem didn’t help matters, and then in Australia’s first match of the Champiuons Trophy on this tour it was more of the same.
Talent of Starc’s type must be encouraged and nurtured, but one of the great things about Test cricket is that eventually everyone must be accountable. And players like Starc and Johnson can completely unbalance a team unless the attack has a Glenn McGrath and a Shane Warne in it - that’s why Brett Lee was able to be such a great wildcard for Australia in its glory days. We need wickets and runs when they really count.
The decision to leave Starc out at Lord’s was perfectly understandable. He didn’t do a lot wrong at Trent Bridge, apart from succumbing meekly with the bat in the second innings, but the feeling that his rhythm would have been completely thrown out by the Lord’s slope was enough to demand that Harris be recalled. Then the decision to replace the injured James Pattinson with him in Manchester again made sense.
In normal English conditions you would back Starc to be a handful for anyone, but the dry nature of the wickets so far has certainly not helped his cause. Maybe, after the recent rain, Durham will provide a pleasant oasis after what’s been a veritable desert, and Starc could be retained.
Otherwise, there are two bits of advice for the giant New South Welshman : stop talking about Alastair Cook’s supposed weakness outside off stump to left arm pacemen. And put your feet up until we get to the Gabba. You WILL be good there, no matter how much you might spray them about.