When does a player become a permanent fixture in a national side? When is a player required to earn their keep on recent form rather than past glory?
One player at present is Mitchell Starc.
Starc has benefitted massively from all the attention being focussed on his side’s batting struggles.
So, for solidity, the bowling quartet of Natha Lyon, Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood will be given a free pass, irrespective of form and even fitness.
All three big quicks struggled during the middle part of 2018, with Starc and Cummins managing back issues, and Starc struggling through ankle and hamstring problems.
As a result, Starc’s form has dropped. After blitzing in Durban against South Africa last March, with match figures of 9-109, he struggled in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town (returning just three wickets for 304).
He missed the final Test, in Johannesburg, and the IPL however, unlike the other two quicks, he did manage to battle through the unrewarding UAE Tests against Pakistan. However, he developed hamstring tightness and was clearly not right in the three ODIs against South Africa.
His overall performance now since Durban is 306 overs for 22 wickets at a strike rate of 83.68 and an average of 46.73. This has moved his career average from 26.7 after the Durban game to 28.92.
His performance against Sri Lanka was once again a liability. He was flattered in the first innings, with two late wickets, while in the second innings the rest of the bowlers combined for 36.5 overs, nine for 59 and Starc got away with 14 overs for 57.
Tim Paine has done the right thing by publicly backing his man. However, this can’t go on.
Hazlewood had been underperforming since the England home Ashes the summer of 2017-18. Despite clearly tiring, his omission for this series only came due to a recurrence of his troublesome back complaint. With his omission in came a breath of fresh air, young Jhye Richardson, who impressed with five for 45 on debut off just 27 overs, with ten maidens – doing all the things as a new-ball bowler that Starc seems incapable of.
In that Durban Test, Starc picked up his first of five first-innings wickets in his second spell, in the 28th over, as he wrapped up three of the last four wickets.
In the second innings, he managed got a pole in the seventh over, then struck again in the 80th over, with three quick wickets to leave the Proteas nine down in darkening conditions.
So even the 9-109 that Starc took, while looking great on paper, did not actually fulfil his role as a new-ball bowler.
My argument is simple: Mitchell Starc is not the bowler for the role that is being asked of him.