McCullum wary of 'most feared' Starc threat
New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum has conceded that Mitchell Starc is one of the most feared bowlers in international cricket, and has no doubt that his devastating white-ball form can transfer to the Test arena. McCullum knows first-hand just how threatening Starc is in the shorter forms, having been bowled by his inswinging yorker in the first over of the World Cup final in March.
The wicket set the tone for New Zealand's struggle in that match, and Starc had also run through New Zealand with 6 for 28 in the group match in Auckland the previous month. McCullum said Starc was a vastly different bowler compared to when he made his Test debut against New Zealand at the Gabba four years ago, when he claimed match figures of 2 for 123.
"He is a guy who has developed incredibly quickly at this level," McCullum said. "Four years ago we came over and he was pretty early in his career. The emergence of him between then and now, he's a completely different bowler. Where he sits in world cricket - he's probably one of the most feared bowlers around. But if you want to win in Australia, you don't expect people to hand it to you.
"He possesses skills that transfer into Test cricket as well. His ability to bowl quick and use his bouncer and then follow it up with his yorker, like we've seen a lot in one-day cricket, but we've also seen a little bit of recently in Test cricket as well. They're pretty decent weapons to have as a quick bowler."
That Mitchell Johnson is not the Australian bowler being most talked about in the lead-up to this Test is testament to Starc's remarkable form: in 2015 no bowler has taken more international wickets than Starc across all formats. Captain Steven Smith has seen enough of Starc in the nets this week to believe that Starc may provide New Zealand with a few World Cup flashbacks.
"If you've got that mental edge on them you're going to win a lot of battles," Smith said. "It's certainly been hard work facing him in the nets. Facing him yesterday, he was presenting a pretty similar seam and some balls were swinging back late and some balls were going across. That's extremely hard to face when it's coming down at 150kph as well."
Smith had the pleasure of captaining Starc for New South Wales during last month's Matador Cup one-day tournament, and it was largely a case of handing Starc the new white ball and saying "go for it". Starc easily topped the competition tally with 26 wickets at the ridiculous average of 8.11, despite the fact that he was rested from one game.
"He has bowled terrifically throughout the one-day series and the first Shield game last week," Smith said. "He has bowled good pace, he is swinging the ball, and I think with Mitchell one thing I've been most impressed with is when the ball's not doing anything he's found a way to make sure he's getting the ball across the right-hander and build a bit of pressure.
"I think that's going to be really key for us if the ball's not swinging. But if it is, what he's been doing really well is swinging the ball late, at pace and hitting the stumps. I think in the Matador Cup he got 17 bowleds. That's something he's done really well."
But while much of the pre-series discussion has surrounded Starc's form, New Zealand's new-ball combination of Trent Boult and Tim Southee has the potential to decimate Australia's inexperienced batting order. Like Starc, Boult debuted during the last Test series between the nations, and his 5 for 27 in the World Cup group match in Auckland set up New Zealand's win.
"They're very good bowlers," Smith said. "Up front they do swing the ball. Quite often teams come to places like the Gabba and the WACA and see the ball zinging through and potentially bowl a little bit too short. I think these guys will probably learn from that, they'll bowl quite a full length and try to swing it.
"That's their strength. We know that. We just have to go out and counteract that at the start and the more we're out there, the more they bowl the easier it'll get for us. They're good bowlers though and we're going to have to respect them up front."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale