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Mitchell Starc: Destroyer of World Cups

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30th June, 2019
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When Mitchell Starc was named as the player of the tournament at the 2015 World Cup, it represented his coronation as the best bowler in ODI cricket.

Starc finished the 2015 World Cup with 22 wickets at a staggering average of 10.18. His career bowling average was 18.33 with a strike rate of 23.

To watch Mitchell Starc during this period was to watch a left-armed machine of destruction. Considering that Starc was only 25 at the time of the 2015 tournament, many believed he could be the leader of a dominant Australian attack for years to come.

However, between the 2015 World Cup and the 2019 edition, Starc’s one-day career struggled to reach those same heights.

His average over this period increased to 25.56, his strike rate rose to 29 and his economy rate lifted from 4.70 to 5.22.

The period after the 2017 Champions Trophy was a particular struggle for Starc. In the seven one-day matches he played between mid-2017 and 2019, he could only take 11 wickets at 37.36 and at an economy of 6.13.

Coming into this year’s World Cup, there was a real concern whether Starc could return to his dominant best.

Starc at his peak could produce fast, in-swinging deliveries to right-handers similar to the one that demolished Brendon McCullum’s stumps in the 2015 final. But the following years had seen Starc’s pace decline and he seemed to lose the ability to swing the new ball.

The question was asked, does Starc still have it?

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He certainly does.

Mitchell Starc bowling

(Photo by Action Foto Sport/NurPhoto)

Starc has scythed through opposing teams at this year’s World Cup. He is the highest wicket taker with 24 scalps, seven more than Lockie Ferguson in second place. Of all the bowlers with at least five wickets, he has the second-best average and strike rate behind Mohammed Shami, who has only played two games to Starc’s eight. Starc is a very strong chance to be the first player in cricket history to twice be named player of the tournament.

This continues Starc’s astonishing record at World Cups. Across 16 games in the 2015 and 2019 tournaments, he has taken 46 wickets at an amazing average of 12.97.

These figures have been driven by a particularly strong record against New Zealand. Starc has played three World Cup matches against the Black Caps and has taken 13 wickets at 5.69. He must really have something against Kiwis.

Starc’s World Cup average is 7.63 runs per wicket better than his career average – the second best net improvement of any bowler with a career average under 25, coincidentally trailing Shami again.

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So why is Starc such a strong performer in World Cups?

One explanation is in his uniqueness as a bowler. Left-arm quicks who can deliver the ball at Starc’s pace are a rare breed. When you combine that with Starc’s slightly round-arm delivery and the ability to achieve reverse swing at the end of innings, it makes for an unusual bowling beast.

In World Cups, teams rarely play each other more than once. Playing an atypical bowler like Starc once means that there is less of a chance to adapt to his bowling style, increasing the batting side’s vulnerability.

Support for this theory comes when you look at Starc’s record in two- or three-team series against the Test-playing nations. When Starc bowls in the first three games of one of these series, he averages 21.52. From the fourth game onwards, Starc averages a far less impressive 35.92. Teams are able to adapt to Starc’s uniqueness over the course of a series, and therefore play him more comfortably.

In a World Cup, Starc is presented with a sequence of teams who won’t get this opportunity to adapt to him over a longer series. It is this absence of familiarity that helps turn Mitchell Starc from a great bowler into a World Cup destroyer.