Forget about Shane Warne’s vendetta, Mitchell Starc still doesn’t get enough credit for his efforts as Australia’s strike bowler for the best part of a decade.
There has been plenty of hype generated by Warne and the cricketing media due to the spin king’s annual calls for anyone without the surname Starc to be included in the Australian Test bowling attack.
It’s clear Warne will never let up and also just as obvious that the selectors don’t share that same view.
But the wider public still doesn’t seem to appreciate how good this guy has been.
And he will end up as one of Australian cricket’s all-time great fast bowlers.
He’s turning 32 in a month’s time and has probably only got another two or three years of elite wicket-taking left in him.
But with 264 Test scalps at a fine average of 27.35 and a stellar strike rate of 49.3, his record is already one of the best in the history of Australian pacemen.
He won’t catch Glenn McGrath’s 563 at the top of the national Test wicket tally but he’s likely to surpass a few big names in the next couple of years.
After overtaking Jason Gillespie (259) in this Ashes series, he has Craig McDermott’s 291 as his next big name on the horizon before moving on to other legendary quicks Brett Lee (310), Mitchell Johnson (313) and the most fearsome of them all, Dennis Lillee (355).
Longevity is a trait to be admired, but it’s not the be-all and end-all and the secret to Starc’s success has been his ability to strike when his captain has needed a breakthrough.
Warne was predictably harping on Starc’s lack of success against the Indian top order last summer as his most recent reason for dropping the NSW left-armer but it was a rare dry spell for a player whose strike rate of 49.3 is better than anyone in the top 20 list of Australia’s all-time wicket takers in men’s Test cricket.
The good news for Australian fans is the bloke in 21st spot with a better strike rate of 46.3 is Pat Cummins.
To put their prowess into perspective, nobody else among the 39 Australian men with 100 wickets has a strike rate below 50.
Something of an introvert, Starc has never sought the spotlight and it’s not in his nature to engage in a public slanging match with critics like Warne. And that’s a good thing. If he had bitten back it would have only added to the drama and become more of a distraction for him and the team.
Starc stepped up last week in Adelaide when Cummins was a late scratching due to being a COVID-19 close contact after Josh Hazlewood had already been ruled out with a side strain.
With newbies Jhye Richardson and Michael Neser combining for just one wicket, Starc’s return of 4-37 from 16.1 overs in the first innings was crucial in Australia maintaining their dominance over England.
He struck early to continue his stranglehold over opener Rory Burns, elicited a snick from Dawid Malan when he was well set on 80 and dismissed Jos Buttler without scoring to trigger the English tail’s dependable collapse.
Despite being hampered by a rib injury in the second innings, he snared the big wicket of Joe Root and continued Ollie Pope’s miserable series. Across the match he bowled 43.1 overs and only conceded 80 runs – there could be no accusations of spraying the ball or being too expensive.
In essence, he was the reliable spearhead to the attack that Australia needed.
Australian coach Justin Langer said on Thursday that he was impressed with Starc’s resilience at the Adelaide Oval and thought he could have been man of the match ahead of centurion Marnus Labuschagne. Resilience, on and off the field, has been a hallmark of Starc’s career.
Langer said he would play on Boxing Day at the MCG as long as his rib complaint was no bother.
With Hazlewood no certainty to suit up as Australia look to retain the Ashes in the shortest amount of games possible, Starc will again be called upon alongside Cummins to finish off England’s brittle batting order.
Australia should probably look to rest Starc in one of the two remaining Tests in Sydney or Hobart – his record in the fourth and fifth matches in series blows out.
He averages 24 in the first and second Tests of series but that becomes 31.67 in game threes, 36.94 in fourth matches and a whopping 52.66 when he plays in a fifth fixture. To be fair, that average for fifth Tests is from bowling on two pitches not friendly to fast bowlers – his home patch of Sydney and The Oval in London.
Notwithstanding his involvement with the two national white-ball teams, Australia have a crowded schedule in the Test arena over the next 12 months with 15 matches home and abroad.
Even though it’s the Ashes, resting Starc from a likely looming dead rubber seems like a good option to keep him fresh – part of the respect he thoroughly deserves after a decade of superb service in the baggy green cap … despite what some people might say.