What an effort from Quinton de Kock!
On this day two years ago, Mitchell Starc was on top of the world.
Gearing up for a World Cup semi-final against England, Starc had just taken the global tournament by storm.
Amassing 26 wickets in just nine matches, the left-arm quick was in devastating form.
His purple patch was perhaps best underlined by a searing inswinging yorker to dismiss Ben Stokes during Australia’s group stage victory at Lord’s.
The England all-rounder (on 89 at the time) stood between Australia and victory, and his reaction to the delivery — dropping, then kicking his bat along the turf — was one of a player who knew the game was over.
This, in essence, is Starc’s unique quality.
As the only Australian bowler to extract genuine swing at over 145 kmph, he is the weapon that skipper Aaron Finch needs to fire at the upcoming T20 World Cup — preparations for which start tomorrow with Australia’s first T20I against the West Indies.
The Lord’s dismissal, aside from its distinct aesthetic quality, underlined Starc at his absolute best; pace, moment, and ability to hit the difficult yorker length.
But he has rarely shown that form since.
Starc finished with four-plus wickets on four occasions during that 2019 World Cup, but in 23 one-day and T20 internationals since is yet to reach that mark again.
His impact with both white and red ball has dropped off, and if Australia is to compete with the likes of India and England later this year, it simply has to return.
It may sound like basic sporting vernacular, but Starc is a match-winner; the sort of players who, on their day, will single-handedly drag their side over the line.
In the game’s shortest format, it’s the bowler who can rip apart a top order, or the batter who can strike at 200 to win a game.
Glenn Maxwell is the only other Australian who fits that bill in T20 cricket.
If Australia is to progress beyond the group stage later this year, they are more than likely to face tournament favourites India or England in a knockout game.
The top order for both sides are, without doubt, some of the the world’s best T20 batters.
Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow; the sort of players who, when ‘on’, can win the game with a 40-ball innings.
And when they’re in that mood, very few deliveries will send them back to the pavilion.
But Starc has the ability to produce that delivery, the unplayable ball, ala Stokes at Lord’s.
It’s why even if he serves up three half-volleys in his first three balls, the next one could come back in and with it, swing the tie on its head.
Perhaps surprisingly, Starc (35 T20I matches) isn’t as experienced at the level as one might think, given his international career is nudging ten years.
Three of his teammates — David Warner, Glenn Maxwell and Aaron Finch — have played more than double that number of games for Australia.
He has played just 15 T20Is in almost five years.
Now, however, he finally has a long run at it ahead of October’s World Cup, with a five-game series against the Windies from tomorrow, before a further three against Bangladesh.
Theoretically, he should be fresh, having avoided the extended quarantine and bubbles that many teammates had to endure during this year’s ill-fated IPL.
While Starc has become a whipping boy in recent years among a section of Australian fans, one cannot, however, question his desire to play international cricket.
While every player says playing for their country is the ‘pinnacle’, Starc’s actions actually back that up.
As other Aussie players prioritise franchise cricket at certain points in the calendar, which is their absolute prerogative, Starc has consistently turned down a spot in the IPL auction where he would command huge money (if Riley Meredith can command $1.4 million, just how much could Starc fetch?).
But he has prioritised work-life balance, knowing that playing in the IPL (which takes place during an international hiatus) may lead to physical and mental burnout in cricket’s increasingly demanding schedule.
For this, he should be praised.
“One of the reasons over the last few years I haven’t been going to the IPL is to have that time to refresh and be the best that I can for Australia,” he said this week.
“(I) want to play as much as I can across the formats for Australia, first and foremost.”
Last summer’s Test series against India was perhaps the worst Australia has seen of Starc.
Match figures of 1/127 and 2/163 at the decisive Sydney and Brisbane Tests revealed a bowler well down on confidence.
One hopes he’s been reminded of his importance to Australia, and what he’s capable of with the white ball.
Perhaps they should just send him a Youtube link to that ball at Lord’s.