England need their own Mitchell Starc

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By Ronan O'Connell, Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    Australian quick Mitchell Starc is never likely to become a consistent Test bowler no matter how many times his many critics harp on the point. But he doesn’t need to be consistent, as we’ve witnessed in this Ashes.

    While Starc has been busy taking 14 wickets at 19 this series, I’ve continually seen cricket fans deriding him for his inaccuracy, a criticism akin to complaining that David Warner can’t bat for time like Matt Renshaw.

    Warner’s value is his unique ability to flay quality Test attacks, setting the opposition back on their heels, while Starc’s is his capacity for producing wickets in bursts, changing the course of a Test.

    Many cricket followers do not seem to understand Starc’s role within the brilliant Australian attack. Here’s a hint: it isn’t to bowl maidens. England have three quicks who can bowl very tightly in James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes. What they would kill to have is a guy like Starc because of the invaluable variety he adds to a Test attack.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but in Test history there has never been another bowler identical to Starc – a 197 centimetre-tall left-armer who swings the new and old ball at 150 kilometres an hour. He is a truly unique cricketer, and one who makes Australia a vastly better team.

    Starc has the rare gift of taking wickets against the run of play. He does so by producing deliveries that are unplayable or close to unplayable, even in conditions which offer zero assistance to fast bowlers. That is why Starc remains effective in conditions the world over while the likes of Anderson are often neutered when swing or seam isn’t on offer.

    (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

    In an era when so many cricketers dominate at home and labour away, Starc is one of only two Test bowlers ranked in the ICC’s top 20 who has a better average on the road (26) than at home (28). The second bowler is New Zealand’s Neil Wagner. Outside of that pair, the only other bowler in the top 20 who comes close to achieving this feat is Starc’s new ball partner Josh Hazlewood, who averages 25.8 at home and 26.2 away.

    To get a true indication of how good a Test bowler Starc has become, consider his stats since he was made a fixture in the Australian team two and a half years ago – 112 wickets at 24 from 23 Tests with a blazing strike rate of 42.

    In that period the only Test quick in the world to have taken more wickets than Starc is Hazlewood. Now compare Starc’s current Test record to those of Anderson and Broad after each cricketer had played 38 Tests:

    • Starc: 162 wickets at 27.5
    • Anderson: 130 wickets at 34.2
    • Broad: 114 wickets at 34.8

    Australia are fortunate to have a quality back-up quick in Jackson Bird, a reliable operator who has averaged 27 with the ball across his eight Tests and is dominating the Sheffield Shield with 25 wickets at 16 this season. But consider for a moment how much more one-dimensional Australia’s pace attack would look, particularly on a flat deck, if it consisted of Bird, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.

    Right now Australia’s Test attack is as well balanced as any I have seen in the past decade. Every base is covered. Obviously it is not on the same level as the glory era Australian bowling unit of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie.

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Yet there are significant similarities between the two attacks. Hazlewood has long been compared with McGrath thanks to his amazing precision. Starc plays a very similar role to Brett Lee, unsettling opponents with his pace, unpredictability and ability to produce something from nothing. Cummins, meanwhile, reminds me of Gillespie at his peak – an out-and-out strike bowler with intimidating pace yet also possessing fine control and a great cricketing brain.

    Then there’s Lyon, who, while he’ll never be anywhere near the bowler Warne was, right now offers Australia that rare spin package of being simultaneously attacking and defensive. The off-spinner is bowling with great economy while posing a constant threat to the opposition. His haul of 57 wickets at 22 from nine Tests this year is extraordinary.

    Again I’ll emphasise that I’m not attempting to put the current Australian attack on par with the golden era Australian bowling unit. Rather I’m pointing out that both attacks had a wonderful balance to them. Quite remarkably all of Starc (26), Hazlewood (26), Cummins (25) and Lyon (29) average in the 20s with the ball away from home.

    Now compare that to the away averages of England’s main four bowlers – Broad (32), Anderson (33), Chris Woakes (53) and Moeen Ali (47) – and it’s easy to spot the key difference between the Ashes opponents. England’s attack does not have the variety nor the dynamism to be consistently effective away from home.

    That has been exposed across the first two Tests of this series, and with the possibility of flat pitches over the next three matches, things could get downright ugly for the England attack. They need a Starc. But only Australia has one.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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    The Crowd Says (71)

    • December 7th 2017 @ 5:30am
      twodogs said | December 7th 2017 @ 5:30am | ! Report

      Altough Overton could well be a handful if he could gain another two yards in pace.

      • December 9th 2017 @ 10:44pm
        ColinP said | December 9th 2017 @ 10:44pm | ! Report

        His twin brother has them…….George garton will be our starc

    • December 7th 2017 @ 7:13am
      Jeffrey Dun said | December 7th 2017 @ 7:13am | ! Report

      Well argued Ronan. You’r right of course, but it can be frustrating when Starc bowls so many loose deliveries. I get the impression that when he goes around the wicket to the right handers, he bowls a much tighter line, and is still very dangerous.

      When you say “Then there’s Lyon, who, while he’ll never be anywhere near the bowler Warne was..”, I agree. But I will say that if I were choosing a team to tour India, I would take Lyon over Warne every time. Warne’s record in India is poor.

      • Columnist

        December 7th 2017 @ 11:27am
        Ronan O'Connell said | December 7th 2017 @ 11:27am | ! Report

        Jeffrey there’s no doubt Warne’s record in India was poor but, in my opinion, that was in a large part due to the fact that India’s batting lineup back then was the best at playing spin I’ve ever seen, far batter than the current Indian lineup is.

        Tendulkar, Laxman, Dravid and Ganguly were all incredible players of spin bowling, so much so that the two greatest spinners of all time – Warne and Murali – both really struggled in India (Murali’s record in India was worse than Warne’s).

        Compare to the past 7-8 years when the likes of Panesar, Tahir, Harmer, Swann, O’Keefe and Lyon have all had great Test series in India – that shows how much easier it is for visiting spinners in India these days.

        • December 7th 2017 @ 1:07pm
          Jeffrey Dun said | December 7th 2017 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

          Good point Ronan. That was a superb batting line-up.

          Warne’s record against India in Australia supports your argument, although it must be said he only played a handful of tests, the first two of which he was on debut as a callow youth.

          • December 7th 2017 @ 5:40pm
            Bakkies said | December 7th 2017 @ 5:40pm | ! Report

            Another thing that Warne had over Lyon was a well kept mullét.

    • December 7th 2017 @ 7:16am
      John said | December 7th 2017 @ 7:16am | ! Report

      Good article, agree Starc is a very good test bowler those who say otherwise are just kidding themselves.

    • December 7th 2017 @ 9:30am
      Worlds Biggest said | December 7th 2017 @ 9:30am | ! Report

      Starc is a very good bowler, I think the frustration comes from the fact he can be expensive at times. Ronan makes a good point that he is the strike bowler so will leak some runs but intimidate with speed /swing – much in the mold of Brett Lee.

      Really pleased to see Hazlewood bowl really well yesterday as his form had dropped off a tad. Cummins is bowling so well and unlucky not be getting more wickets. Lyon is a quality spinner who is on his way to becoming our second best ever slow ball bowler if not already there. It’s an excellent bowling lineup.

      • December 7th 2017 @ 1:17pm
        Jeffrey Dun said | December 7th 2017 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

        “Lyon is a quality spinner who is on his way to becoming our second best ever slow ball bowler if not already there. ”

        Better than O’Reilly and Grimmet ? Or the second best you have seen ?

        • December 7th 2017 @ 1:27pm
          Worlds Biggest said | December 7th 2017 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

          Good pick up Jeffrey, should have clarified that I have seen.

        • December 7th 2017 @ 6:55pm
          Don Freo said | December 7th 2017 @ 6:55pm | ! Report

          Quite possibly better than them. We know Grimmett was great but O’Reilly was his own great promoter. His method was to decry every modern cricketer. Probably more cricket myth than reality.

          The only other contender is MacGill.

          The GOAT just gets it done.

          • December 8th 2017 @ 7:55am
            Jeffrey Dun said | December 8th 2017 @ 7:55am | ! Report

            “Quite possibly better than them. We know Grimmett was great but O’Reilly was his own great promoter.”

            Not based on the stats (which is all we have since there is probably no-one alive that saw them play).

            O’Reilly took 144 test wickets at 22.6 which, for a leg spinner, is unbelievable. Bradman rated him the best bowler he ever saw.

            • December 8th 2017 @ 10:05am
              Don Freo said | December 8th 2017 @ 10:05am | ! Report

              Peas in a pod, those two. Walked rough shod over almost everybody. No time for the modern cricketer.

              Never liked that about them. They never had good opposition.

              • December 8th 2017 @ 10:37am
                Jeffrey Dun said | December 8th 2017 @ 10:37am | ! Report

                O’Reilly played through the thirties against a very powerful England batting line-up. He played 10 tests in Australia and 9 tests in England. I bet he would love to be bowling to the current England batting line up – he’d slaughter them.

                He also played 7 tests against SA; 2 in Australia and 5 in SA.

                None of this sounds like easy opposition to me. He didn’t play home tests against the likes of Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, SL or India (who was not strong in the 30s).

                Given that Bradman, who played with and against O’Rielly rated him the greatest he had seen (and we know there was no love lost between them) I’m inclined to take Bradman’s assessment.

              • December 8th 2017 @ 10:42am
                Don Freo said | December 8th 2017 @ 10:42am | ! Report

                That was a weak English side. I have argued this many times. In Bradman’s case, there were no bowlers. Watch footage of Bradman’s batting. The bowling is comical.

                That makes sense. All of England’s youth was snuffed out on the western front.

                Anyway, that’s been argued before. Those 2 quenched Aussie cricket for decades, promoting only NSW. I’ll put them down every chance I get. Two horrible people.

    • December 7th 2017 @ 9:46am
      Dave said | December 7th 2017 @ 9:46am | ! Report

      Good article and making a solid point there. Well played.

    • December 7th 2017 @ 9:50am
      Andrew said | December 7th 2017 @ 9:50am | ! Report

      Starc used to be much more wayward with his accuracy and sprayed alot of loose deliveries. I loved him when he got it right but hated it when it went wrong (a bit like Johnson at times). However in more recent times, Starc has managed to tighten his bowling up somewhat and has shown me how good a bowler he has become. They are definitely rare and we are spoilt with having a similar to Johnson replacement. (Fast x-factor bowler)

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