This is one of those time-honoured notions that has long since entered into Australian cricket folklore.
There are two certainties in Australian life: that Vegemite will continue to be Australia’s national spread and that Mitchell Starc will have the new ball in his hand on the opening day of Australia’s summer of cricket. At least, the last one held true until this year.
That Mitchell Starc has been amongst the elite Australian bowlers is unquestioned.
His record speaks for itself: 487 wickets at an average of 25 across all formats of the game in international cricket is very good. His career statistics paint a picture of the bowler that he is. He has a better strike rate in Test cricket than his predecessors Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath! Whilst his overall economy rate of 4.02 across all formats is a little high, his wicket-taking ability is unquestioned, particularly in the short format. Who could forget his searing yorker to rattle Brendon McCullum’s stumps in the 2015 World Cup final?
831 runs. 14 wickets. That is the sum total of Starc’s 2021 campaign so far across all formats both international and domestic. Of those 14 wickets, 8 have come in one-day campaigns for his state. For an international strike bowler, frankly, that is not good enough. Since 2018, his strike rates have fluctuated wildly, and he has lost a lot of the control that he once had. In 2018, his strike rate was 54.60 across all formats. 2019 it was 28.70. 2020 it was 40.30. 2021, so far, it is 138.00.
Is it time to drop Starc to domestic cricket to regain form? My answer is a little like Facebook’s relationship status; it’s complicated.
There are few questions over his ability to perform in white-ball cricket, and even fewer about his prowess in T20 cricket. He had a lean series in Australia against India, taking just 11 wickets in 8 innings. 15 wickets against New Zealand preceded that in just six innings of work, a better return. Extrapolate the data out and it would indicate that Starc was well below his best against the Indians at home. Further, his 6 wickets in Sheffield Shield cricket while going at over 4 an over, demonstrated that he had lost much of his confidence.
If the data is further refined to just Test cricket, then Starc’s recent struggle becomes more apparent. In 2018 he played 9 Tests, the second most Tests he has played in one year in his career. In those 9 Tests, he took just 31 wickets at 33 with a strike rate of 62.
In 2019, he had a much better year taking 42 wickets at 20 with a strike rate of 36. In 2020, he played just 3 Tests but took 12 wickets at 20 with a strike rate of 43, and 2021 has seen him play just 2 Tests for 3 wickets at 96 and a strike rate of 160. Incidentally, Starc came off injuries in both 2018 and 2020 which, perhaps, somewhat hampered his rhythm. With no more Tests scheduled until the Australian summer and only 4 Tests before 2022, those statistics will likely improve in his favour.
Starc is at his best when he is fit, bowls with rhythm and keeps the game simple. In the leadup to the Australian summer, it is critically important that Starc plays in as many Sheffield Shield matches as possible to help him regain his mojo. He needs to find his rhythm and keep it simple. If he can do this, Starc will rediscover his best form and can help Australia win another Ashes series at home. If not, then the selectors must have another fast bowler on standby as it does neither him nor the Australian public good to see him lumbering in and having little impact on the batsmen.
Australia needs a firing Mitchell Starc, one who can rip through the middle and lower orders and provide control up front with the ball, if it is to regain the Ashes this Australian summer.
Starc needs some time in domestic cricket to remember what made him a great bowler.
For Australia to win, they need a fit, firing, and aggressive Starc, not merely a net bowler.