Could Mitchell Starc be the first ever player to win multiple man-of-the-tournament awards at a World Cup? His current form suggests the question is a half-volley. Yes, of course he can, and his numbers back it up.
In taking two further scalps in Australia’s win over Bangladesh, Starc took his tournament tally to 15 – two more than the next best after that match. His return would also confirm him as the first bowler to take a wicket in 14 consecutive World Cup innings. It’s compelling stuff.
Starc’s 2019 World Cup stats read six matches, 15 wickets, and an economy rate of 5.4. Unpicking them, it doesn’t take a nuanced Kumar Sangakkara analysis to report that 2.5 wickets a game is fairly good going.
And while Starc’s economy rate is solid without being earth-shattering, it’s evident he has his all-important control back. This, of all his attributes, is the crux of why he’s so dangerous.
Swinging the ball at 150 clicks is a precious, rare and exceedingly difficult skill. Starc’s periods of success throughout his career have swayed with his level of control.
When he’s on, he’s almost unplayable. But when he’s off – or worse yet, his release point and seam position isn’t generating swing – he tends to be expensive.
In this way, he’s a stark contrast to Pat Cummins, whose back-of-a-length ultra-consistency rarely wavers.
Having played just three official ODIs in the 16 months before this World Cup due to several injury layoffs, it was difficult to know which Mitchell Starc would turn up in the UK.
The one who sends down curling missiles, or the one who just sends down missiles.
Thankfully for Australia, it’s the former. It’s the Starc of 2015, who tore the tournament apart with 22 wickets.
And it’s this form Australia are most reliant on should they hope to hoist the World Cup aloft for a sixth time.
Starc is the match-winner Australia almost certainly couldn’t win the World Cup without. Without him, they would have likely lost to the West Indies – where he took 5/46 – and even Pakistan, where his late reintroduction into the attack swung a tight game back towards the Aussies.
As a hypothetical exercise, ask the two fancied teams of this World Cup – England and India – who they currently fear in the Australian side, and their answers would likely be Starc.
The two tournament favourites would likely back themselves to quell the likes of Glenn Maxwell or David Warner, and minimise the impact of Cummins with the new ball.
But in England’s case, Starc is probably the only player who can disrupt their well-oiled batting machine in the final ten overs. When he’s on-song, there’s precious little an opposition can do to halt his momentum.
A 150km/h in-swinging yorker at the toes would stop any Eoin Morgan six-fest.
Starc’s challenge remains doing it against the most dangerous sides, something he has done before.
Against India at the Oval, however, he leaked 74 runs in his ten overs. Tuesday’s clash against England at Lord’s will perhaps be the best indicator of where he’s at. Should Australia win that game, they might consider resting him for the penultimate group game against New Zealand.
While most Australian cricket fans fully understand Starc’s importance, is it possible we under-appreciate him?
Are we so accustomed to his white ball brilliance that it’s simply expected he’ll perform? One Twitter user posed that question this week.
Y'all don't deserve Starc, you know. The guy bowls 155kph yorkers that would clean up any batsman, but because he doesn't deliver line and length the rest of the time, he gets flack. You can't be Lee *and* McGrath. Enjoy Starc for what he is – an attacking phenomenon. #CWC19
— Ben Jones (@benjonescricket) June 15, 2019
Perhaps they’re right. But then again, most people also recognise that without him, Australia’s hopes are reduced considerably.
He’s the golden arm that might just win back-to-back man-of-the-tournament awards, but more importantly, back-to-back World Cups.