The Roar
The Roar



Why Starc should be first to make way if selectors opt to regenerate ageing Test team’s legendary bowling attack

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14th February, 2024
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Infiltrating a cartel is never easy. Just ask a grizzled narcotics cop or one of the armada of Australian bowlers trying to get into the Test team. 

The record-breaking trio of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood keep on keeping on and, in concert with veteran spinner Nathan Lyon, they could theoretically stick together as Australia’s frontline bowling attack for two or three more years.

Not that any of these four players have shown significant signs of a downturn in form, but Australia’s selectors appear allergic to bringing down the curtain on the career of any established player.

Whether that’s David Warner in the Test side or Aaron Finch prior to that in the one-day squads, or current short-form specialists Marcus Stoinis and Matthew Wade, who keep getting recalled despite their best years being well behind them. 

It appears the only way 35-year-old Lyon, 34-year-old Starc or 33-year-old Hazlewood will put their baggy green cap in mothballs anytime soon is if a major injury gives them no choice or they suffer a dramatic drop in form. 

The danger of this Fab Four all playing on together like The Rolling Stones rather than calling it a day before they’re over the hill like The Beatles is that the Australian team will be left with a trio of back-up singers to Cummins as the ageing frontman if they depart in quick succession.

If push ever comes to shove and the selectors decide they have to punt a legend to fast-track the likes of Lance Morris, Spencer Johnson, Xavier Bartlett and Todd Murphy into the side, then it will be like a parent being forced to choose which kid they like the least. 


For a number of reasons, Starc should be the first of the quality quartet to make way for the next generation. 

He is the eldest of the three quicks, he has the most miles on his legs in terms of international appearances and his red-ball returns have been the most erratic of the foursome in recent times. 

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 02: Bowlers Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon of of Australia walk onto the field at the start of play during day four of the Second Test match in the series between Australia and Pakistan at Adelaide Oval on December 02, 2019 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe - CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

The elephant in the room with Starc is the not-so-small fortune he has given up by not playing in the IPL over the years. 

You would hate to see Starc become bitter and twisted if his Australian career comes to an abrupt end because of the many millions he has given up by bypassing world cricket’s most lucrative league since 2015.

Starc will make his return to the IPL after the upcoming tour of New Zealand, playing for Kolkata Knight Riders for the tidy sum of $4.4 million. 

Australian cricket is indebted to him for resting his already overworked frame for many years when he could have been cashing in like many other multi-format stars whose international careers have been compromised by their T20 franchise commitments. 


In theory, if Starc were to voluntarily give up Tests in the near future, his earning potential in the twilight years of his career would go through the roof. 

But on the other hand, if he wanted to keep playing Tests for the next few years while also cashing in at the IPL, it would be extremely rough for the Australian selectors to drop him after all the sacrifices he’s made, both physically and financially. 

In the past two calendar years and the three Tests that the Aussies have played in 2024, Starc’s record has been pretty strong –  84 wickets at 28.7 and a strike rate of 46.7 in 23 Tests, and he’s been the best option on subcontinental wickets ahead of Cummins and Hazlewood.

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 06: Lance Morris of Australia celebrates with team mates after taking the wicket of Keacy Carty of the West Indies during game three of the Men's One Day International match between Australia and West Indies at Manuka Oval on February 06, 2024 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Lance Morris celebrates after taking the wicket of Keacy Carty. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Over the same timeframe, Cummins has 89 wickets in 24 matches at 24.79 and a strike rate of 47 while Hazlewood (48 wickets at 22.7, striking at 45 in 12 Tests) has not played as much due to a couple of injuries and missing selection in Asian conditions but his numbers are still excellent. 

Chief selector George Bailey said in a Sydney Morning Herald interview which was published on Wednesday that he was happy with the way the next generation had performed over the summer with 27 players used across the three formats against Pakistan and the West Indies.

He said they were wary of the established greats in the first-choice team burning themselves out by playing too much cricket and wanted to ensure the back-up players had experience before they replaced the current stars.


“If you manage it correctly, you might have someone who by that stage has played five, ten, 15 or maybe more games in that format, and they’re not coming in cold. It’s international cricket and they slot into your team a lot more smoothly,” he said.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 21: Spencer Johnson of South Australia bowls during the Sheffield Shield match between Victoria and South Australia at CitiPower Centre, on February 21, 2023, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Spencer Johnson. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

After the recent introduction of a bunch of new faces, this is definitely the case in the white-ball line-ups but the Test line-up has rarely changed in the past few years and there are few players waiting in the wings with red-ball experience at international level. 

If Starc, or Hazlewood for that matter, were to make an exit before the other members of the bowling cartel, the selectors would be able to rotate Bartlett, Morris, Johnson and Jhye Richardson if he can shake off his injuries to see who can be the cornerstone of the next long-term bowling attack.

Lyon’s exit, whether it’s when he’d like to retire after the 2027 Ashes tour or beforehand, is likely to mean Murphy gets a chance to nail down a spot but NSW leg spinner Tanveer Sangha or a left-field option like WA offie Corey Rocchiccioli could leapfrog him.

Players in the final stages of their career are rarely the best judges of when it’s time to retire even though most think they know when the time is right.

If the selectors allow the current bowling quartet to dictate when they make their exit from the Test team, they could all go within a cluster of a year or two.


Many of the current Test team have earned the right to decide when to pull the pin… but only if they keep performing at the level which made them great in the first place.