The Australian selectors made a bold call in omitting Mitchell Starc from four of the five Ashes Tests this year due to a horses-for-courses strategy.
Now he’s back in the XI and in ominous form just in time for the blockbuster three-Test series against a highly talented New Zealand side starting next week.
On a flat Adelaide pitch, Starc has been clearly the most potent bowler from either side during the second Test against Pakistan, with match figures of 7-76 to date. By comparison, the other seven front-line bowlers involved in this match have taken 9-724.
It is for precisely this reason – Starc’s rare ability to remain penetrative on dead pitches – that the Australian selectors recalled him immediately after the Ashes.
Starc has now taken 30 wickets at 12 in his past four first-class matches, including two Tests and two Sheffield Shield fixtures.
This purple patch has come on the back of a remodelled bowling action. Starc previously used to lift his bowling arm up above his head just before whipping down his front arm. Now he keeps his bowling arm much lower, close to his left shoulder, creating a more compact action.
This change, made at the start of this summer, has impressed former Australian skipper Mark Taylor, who told Wide World of Sports he believed Starc’s new action had made him more accurate.
“He looks a better bowler to me and he looks tighter,” Taylor said.
“The guys talked a lot today about his bowling action, his arms are closer to his body. He looks a more controlled bowler.
“He’s still got the pace, but he’s got a bit of a swing and he’s got that lovely tall left-arm action. It looks to me with that slightly tighter action that he’s going to bowl less boundary balls and that’s a good thing.”
We only have a small sample size to work with, given Starc has played only two Tests since altering his action. But he has looked sharp across both matches, while taking 14 wickets at 14.
Granted, Starc has been aided by some very shoddy shot selection by the Pakistan batsmen. Regardless, the lanky left-armer appears to be primed for a big summer.
At his best, Starc adds enormously to the Australian attack due not just to his natural wicket-taking ability but also to his intimidation factor and left-arm angle.
His form surge is a boon for Tim Paine’s men as they head into what should be a hotly-contested series against New Zealand.
The number two ranked Test team, the Kiwis have a very solid and settled top seven, featuring six batsmen who average 40-plus in Tests.
The England attack has struggled badly for penetration against New Zealand’s batting line-up over their ongoing two-Test series. England right now would kill to have a bowler like Starc in their line-up.
Starc’s purple patch, coupled with the continued good form of Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, has Australia’s attack in nice shape.
Now they just need a lift from their most experienced bowler in Nathan Lyon. In his last six Tests, the off-spinner has snared only 13 wickets at 53. Pakistan’s batsmen have played him with ease so far in this series as he’s taken 2-179.
Even their tail-enders looked confident against Lyon yesterday as they frustrated the Aussies. After being 6-89, Pakistan managed to recover to make 302.
That rebound was thanks to a typically classy 97 from Babar Azam and an incredible 113 from Yasir Shah, whose previous highest score across 36 Tests was just 42.
Australia looked flat during this period. Their bowling was lacklustre and their fielding was atrocious.
This is the kind of sloppy, uninspired cricket they would do well to get out of their system before encountering New Zealand, who would make them pay for such lapses.
To their credit, Australia bounced back nicely in the night session, reducing the tourists to 3-39 and putting themselves in a dominant position with two days to play in Adelaide.