'Robust' Starc pushing to front of pace queue
Durability is among the most valued qualities in a fast bowler, and never more than during cricket's present era of multiple formats and greedy scheduling.
So to hear Mitchell Starc described as "robust" by Australia's pace bowling coach Ali de Winter may be a far more significant moment for the young left-armer's international future than any of the 14 wickets he has plucked at the Twenty20 Champions League.
De Winter has returned to Australia from his stint helping nationally contracted bowlers to prepare as best they can for the looming home Test summer.
He has done his best to minimise the effects of the aforementioned schedule, which had the likes of Starc, Ben Hilfenhaus, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood carted across to South Africa for the game's shortest format only a matter of weeks before they must be ready for the rigours of its longest.
Nevertheless, de Winter spoke with great optimism about the bowling stocks now before him, but was particularly glowing about Starc, who following a year of careful management and steady improvement across several tours and continents may be about to blossom into a first-choice member of Australia's Test match bowling attack.
"Mitchell Starc in particular has been outstanding," de Winter said in Hobart. "He's played a lot of cricket since the West Indies, he's been to England and played the A tour, Yorkshire, through the UAE and he's proved to be pretty robust for us, which is a good sign.
"It's a great problem to have that we've got a full bowling list at the moment. The challenge will be for the selectors to come up with the right mix for that first Test in particular. It is something we haven't experienced for a number of years to have a full list of bowlers."
Starc's time with Yorkshire during the English summer may be an important factor in the decisions around his readiness to take part in the Tests against South Africa. Hilfenhaus and Cummins are two other pace bowling options who have not bowled a red ball in a first-class match for quite some time. Hilfenhaus last did so in the West Indies in April, while Cummins must cast his mind back to the Johannesburg Test last November for his previous long-form encounter.
"I think Hilfy and a lot of others have been a bit short of a run in terms of red ball cricket," de Winter said. "We recognise that, but we've got some measures in place to make sure before that Test match they at least have one Shield game under their belt. The guys who have been here, James Pattinson and Peter Siddle have had an outstanding start to the year, so things are in as good a shape as they can be at this point."
The likely plan for Cummins will be to give him at least two Sheffield Shield matches for New South Wales before serious considering is given to pitching him back into the Test team, a schedule that would have him boarding a plane to Perth for the third Test against South Africa.
"We'd certainly like to see him playing Sheffield Shield cricket first and get his workload up," de Winter said. "Then it becomes a performance issue. Nobody's a given to be selected in any Test match, but certainly he's one who we'd like to see fast-tracked into Shield cricket and make sure when his opportunity comes that he's as ready as he can be, understanding he's still a teenager with a lot of growing and learning to do.
"We'll certainly manage our bowlers knowing we've got a six Test match summer followed by four in India and then of course the Ashes. The next 12-15 months are going to be really important."
So deep are Australia's pace bowling resources at the outset of the season that a bowler as accomplished as Luke Butterworth is unlikely to be considered. Butterworth's consistency and craft are well known to de Winter, the former Tasmania bowling coach, leaving him to hope that his former pupil can push for a berth on the Ashes tour in 2013.
"He keeps stacking up the numbers doesn't he, and over a long period of time," de Winter said. "I think he's probably someone you could consider in conditions that suit his style of bowling. He's a proven player of a long period of time and I'm sure he's on the radar. But it's a large group of bowlers so there's going to be a big challenge on.
"Based on performance Hilfenhaus, Siddle and Pattinson are the leading candidates to be selected, and that's just a common sense approach, given how well they did last summer and in the West Indies."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here