Starc admits to being underdone for Perth Test
Mitchell Starc's leg wound is still open. He will require a special knee pad to be able to dive in the field. And he is more than 10 days behind where he would prefer to be in preparation for the first Test of the summer, against South Africa in Perth - the match all Cricket Australia's intricate preparatory plans are meant to be geared for.
That's the challenging scenario for the man who has swiftly become Australia's most valuable cricketing asset. His pace and swing are capable of unpicking the lock to a South African batting line-up that toyed with Steven Smith's team on the recent ODI tour in Starc's absence.
For that reason, there is no question of Starc missing out on a match that will set the tone for the home season, and a series against opponents who will test the resolve of the hosts to perform in familiar climes after humiliations in Sri Lanka and South Africa. The training-inflicted gash to the leg that Starc is still recovering from mirrors the sense that this is an Australian side yet to take complete form after 2015's raft of retirements.
"It's still open, clean it every day, put a patch on it and away you go," Starc said of his left leg. "It's still a little bit opened, so it's probably going to take a couple of weeks [to heal]. It's not bleeding, it's healing nicely. It's all clean. I think when I started bowling and running again it just sort of stretched the skin a little bit. It's not a bad thing, it needed to stretch anyway. But it probably just delayed the healing a little bit.
"[Without the injury] I would have obviously played a couple of Matador games and played the full Shield game as well. So I'm probably - hard to say, probably a week or week-and-a-half behind where I would have liked to be. Being in a brace for four weeks - I couldn't sweat on the wound, so I couldn't run or do all of the gym sessions I wanted to do. So I was a fair bit behind at the start and tried to catch up at the end.
"I'm still a little bit behind where I would have liked but it hasn't cost me any cricket for Australia so I'm ready to go."
Echoing the views of the CA chief executive James Sutherland on the need to prioritise some series above others, Starc said he would be prepared to push through pain and even a re-opening of the wound in order to bowl the kinds of spells his captain requires. That being said, it is hard to imagine Starc being used as anything other than a high-speed battering ram in three to five-over spells after the fashion of Mitchell Johnson.
"I'm happy to bowl long spells, it's going to be up to Steve," Starc said. "I'm prepared to play the Test match and perform any role I need to. Obviously that's initially to bowl as fast as I can and try to attack the South Africans. It's not going to be an issue for me to bowl longer spells, it's just how Smithy sees my role on the day, and the conditions, the wicket and the other guys in the team.
"I guess in the longer scheme of things it hasn't been that long a break. Obviously coming off two months of cricket in Sri Lanka - it's not like I've come off six months of nothing. It is a little bit behind, but I was a lot happier with how I finished the Shield game the other night after 19 overs. A couple more days of preparation this week and I'll be ready to go full tilt."
While South Africa's batting coach Neil McKenzie has had a bit to say about the visitors not fearing any members of the Australian line-up, Starc said he knew there would always be some trepidation among opponents about facing him. "Easy for him to say that, sitting behind the desk," Starc quipped. "I'm happy for him to face me.
"He's entitled to his opinions. It's a lot easier making comments like that when you don't have to face anything. He just throws the whanger down at his batsmen and sits back and watches. Look, we'll all be trying to crank it up. I'll be trying to bowl as fast as I can and Josh can still hit over 140s, Joey [Mennie] bowls a heavier ball than you think and can hurry up a lot of batsmen. He probably bowls a lot quicker than people think.
"Sidds is coming back into some pace as well. We've got plenty of firepower. Just because they've got Dale Steyn - I know he's an outstanding bowler, he's taken 400-plus Test wickets - [but] just because you've got him and [Kagiso] Rabada bowling fast it doesn't mean we don't have anyone to match that."
One of the ironies of Starc's current physical impediment is that he may actually be in his best ever shape to play all six Tests, against South Africa and Pakistan, this summer. Until December last year, when he finally submitted to surgery on foot and ankle problems, Starc had suffered from ankle bone spurs. A full season is chief among his goals.
"I'd love to play a whole summer for a change, whether it be through rotation or injury or bad form I haven't managed to do that yet," Starc said. "So I think I just put that on myself really, to be there for all six Tests and bowling well enough to be selected for all of those Test matches along with the one-day games this summer.
"I think that's part of it as well - being there for a little bit of time now with Josh. We probably take it on ourselves to - along with Pete coming back into the squad after his back - it's probably important for the three of us especially to I guess lead the attack. I think we do that really well together.
"There's not really one leader, we just sort of run off the back of each other and have done for a while. We'd all love to play every Test match this summer, along with the Indian series. Without talking too much about it, we probably put that on ourselves."
Should Starc play six Tests, Australia will be hard to stop. This week may be the highest hurdle to that goal.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig