A host of Test candidates butchered opportunities to press their claims as Australia A floundered against Pakistan over the past two days at Perth Stadium.
If Australia want to win an Ashes series on English soil again, it’s high time they selected Mitchell Starc for the fourth Test.
Despite a strong performance in the just-completed tour game against Derbyshire, it seems that Australia’s premium left-arm quick is not necessarily a shoo-in for Manchester. After the match, national team selector Trevor Hohns gave one of his typically cagey press conferences and wouldn’t confirm whether Starc would play.
Unless you speak Hohns’ language and can read between the lines, or perhaps more likely, you are a journalist searching desperately for a headline, there is no way anyone can truly know who will make up the XI at Old Trafford.
Hohns’ comments on Starc were typically ambivalent, as he said that the 51-Test veteran “gives them a good option” but that decision-makers will “have a look at the pitch” before making a call on the team.
I’m hoping that Hohns has already locked Starc in for the fourth Test and he just doesn’t want to give England an early tip-off.
But just in case there is a doubt over whether Starc should play, here is my case for his inclusion.
Firstly, the tall left-armer holds a small advantage over England’s in-form batsman, Ben Stokes.
Anyone remember that near-perfect yorker Starc bowled to dismiss Stokes in the group stage of the World Cup? It was one of the balls of the tournament, ripping through the defences of the Christchurch cruiserweight just as he was trying to launch an attack on Australia’s total of 285.
One wicket doesn’t make you someone’s bunny for life, of course. But it was the sort of ball that a batsman doesn’t easily forget and will surely make Stokes cautious against Starc in the future. A curtailing of Stokes’ late-innings creativity will be a real benefit, if England’s talisman is forced to bat with the tail again this series – a prospect that doesn’t appear unlikely.
That brings me to Starc’s ability to dismiss lower-order batsmen, another reason he should get picked in Manchester. You don’t need to run a deep statistical analysis to work out that Starc is deadly against tailenders.
In the recent tour match in Derbyshire, he dismissed batsmen seven, eight and nine in one over of Derbyshire’s first innings before removing the last two batsmen in two balls in the second innings. It was a quick and painless finish, which Australia could have done with at Headingley.
Some argue that Starc gets a lot of his wickets this way. Who cares, especially in this series?
One of Australia’s obvious advantages over England is its lower-order batting. Where Australia’s bowlers have been plucky with the willow in hand for years, England’s bowlers don’t normally show much mettle. That being said, they have showed some signs of improvement recently. Don’t expect that to continue if they are forced to face up to Starc.
Let’s face it: whether Starc picks up wickets against England’s top order or not is no big deal. Of course, it would be desirable, but the rest of the bowlers have comfortably dismissed Rory Burns, Joe Denly and Jason Roy all series, and there’s no reason that should change.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the 29-year-old is physically fresh and a bit dirty about not being selected. With Australia’s glut of top bowlers at the moment, returning pacers are hungry to prove their worth.
Josh Hazlewood has bowled brilliantly since his return to the Test side and is clearly a man on a mission. Peter Siddle has also performed strongly when selected, after surely thinking his time in the national side was over. If Starc were to get the nod at Old Trafford, I’m sure he’d deliver.
The left-armer’s comeback, coupled with the return of Steve Smith at the batting crease, would give Australia its best chance of going 2-1 up. It’s a chance that Australia’s selectors have to be bold enough to take.