Australia news December 11, 2012

Starc right to call Warne's bluff

In defending team-mates Nathan Lyon and Ben Hilfenhaus from perceived criticism, Mitchell Starc showed his heart is in the right place

It is one thing to stand up for a team-mate. Quite another to do so when the antagonist happens to be Shane Warne.

Though he remains some way short of ripening as a Test match bowler, there is a lot to like about Mitchell Starc. On the field he is capable of delivering the unplayable ball, as Alviro Petersen and Jacques Kallis discovered to their discomfort in Perth. Off it, he is also capable of delivering impassioned defences of his team-mates, a quality that will not go unnoticed by the pair of fellow bowlers subject to much scrutiny over the past week. If Starc is not yet capable of bowling as a team man all the time, he has certainly spoken as one.

When Warne drummed up effortless publicity for the Twenty20 Big Bash League by trotting out the line that at 43 he was more than good enough to walk straight back into Australia's Test team, media and public enthusiasm for the ageing legspinner's loose talk was such to make incumbent Nathan Lyon feel a little unwanted. While Lyon and Michael Clarke have formed a strong and very healthy relationship, Australia's captain could not help but fuel the fire by admitting that he had wished and asked for a Warne comeback many times.

As the debate swirled, Starc weighed in with the following words about Warne at a press conference ahead of the Sydney Sixers' opening BBL fixture on Saturday. "He's done his time," Starc said, with a smile but a firm tone. "He's obviously done a lot of great things for Australian cricket, but he's done and dusted now, and Nathan Lyon's the spinner. We're all backing Nathan to do his job and if Shane Warne wants to come out of retirement and give it a crack, good luck to him."

Starc's response to the Warne question was as refreshing for its defence of Lyon's place in as it was for siding with reality against the hot-air hype of the BBL's opening week. That it was subsequently written up and spoken of as disrespectful to Warne was unfair on Starc, who had shown the temerity to assure Lyon that amid the madness there were plenty who felt he was doing just fine, and learning fast, as Australia's No. 1 spinner. The way the Melbourne Renegades batsmen tucked into Warne's bowling on opening night of the BBL did not hurt Lyon's case, either.

Starc has now discarded Sixers pink for the grey-green of Australia's training kit in Hobart as the Test team prepared for Sri Lanka. Chief among the team's concerns ahead of the series is the readiness of Ben Hilfenhaus to be both yeoman and wicket-taker, after he wrestled with technical bad habits against South Africa and found himself out of the team for a WACA Test match that would normally be ideal for his persistent away swing.

The question posed to Starc about Hilfenhaus after training was innocuous enough, merely hinting at the struggles the Tasmanian bowler has gone through in trying to relocate his best method after it was warped somewhat by the conflicting demands of T20 matches in India and South Africa. Nevertheless, Starc's response was pugnacious, even if he might be the bowler to benefit by inclusion should Hilfenhaus be ruled unready to return.

"Hilfy's a class bowler, and I'm sure he'll come out and go well again," Starc said. "If Hilfy doesn't come out and take five-for, someone's on his back, so he's going to bowl well. You can't just pick on one performance after one match, he's a class bowler, he's getting himself right to go and I'm sure he'll prepare well for this Test. If he gets chosen he'll do a great job again."

In this case, Starc's defence was more passionate than measured, as it is true that Hilfenhaus had two matches against South Africa to prove himself, before he was sidelined for reasons of injury, fatigue or form, depending on who you ask. But it will no doubt be a tonic for Hilfenhaus that Starc is in his corner not only with ball in hand but microphone at chin.

As Australia seek to build a formidable team culture without the bulwark provided for so long by Ricky Ponting, Starc's fire will be valued so long as it continues to be directed with the sort of focus he demonstrated in defence of Lyon and Hilfenhaus. Starc can still be prone to costly lapses with the ball, as shown on day two of the Perth Test. But he has demonstrated that his heart is where it should be. In the increasingly mercenary T20 age, that is not a quality to be taken for granted.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Christopher on December 12, 2012, 22:36 GMT

    Mikey76, your absolutely probably comment sounded like a press conference with Michael Slater - thoroughly enjoyed! But Warney coming [back] in England is too dangerous now that texts have been superceded by twits. No-one will know who he's propositioning for a doosra under the doona.

  • I on December 12, 2012, 18:56 GMT

    Starc's clearly the real deal - not sue why Australia place Cummins and Pattinson ahead of him. He should have a place ahead of of Johnson too, and pair up with Siddle

  • Mashuq on December 12, 2012, 16:17 GMT

    @mikey76 on (December 12 2012, 05:12 AM GMT): Looking fwd to peitersen smashing Lyon's dibbly dobbly's into next week. What are the odds that as soon as KP walks to the crease Pup takes the ball himself? Seriously though, there's another left-armer Dutchy who I hope they take along to England if he's recovered from his big injury by then. And Lyon is no pie chucker despite what the Pom trollers think.

  • anton on December 12, 2012, 15:55 GMT

    Michael Clarke is too soft to be captain. I completely agree with Starc's defense of Lyon. Warne should not even be in the T20 team, let alone test side. He went for 40 plus runs off his 2 overs the other day. Personally, if I were a manager of a T20 Big Bash League team, I wouldn't have anything to do with any player that has retired from the game in all other forms but is still trying to earn easy money playing the T20 game.

    Hayden has done the right thing retiring last yea at 38 because he felt he would taking the place of an up and coming player. Warne has no shame and is a complete disgrace.

  • gurinder on December 12, 2012, 14:04 GMT

    lyon gonna get a beatdown in india, he is club level bowler, even unfit bhajji is better than him, warne at his best game was thrashed by indians , i feel sorry for wat indian batsmen wud do to him in few weeks time

  • Dummy4 on December 12, 2012, 13:53 GMT

    Warne is the boss The first ever player to coach his team While playing at the same time

  • disco on December 12, 2012, 13:04 GMT

    Good solid comments from Starc staring them down. but they had to slip in the "Ponting bullwark" didn't they, he's another one who's done and dusted let's give it a rest. His bull hadn't been doing any warking for a few years.

  • Jessee on December 12, 2012, 8:33 GMT

    @mikey76. I'm confused how someone can absolutely do anything probably? It would be most appreciated if you could elaborate.

  • sam on December 12, 2012, 8:22 GMT

    Like @landl47 I too rate Starc vey highly. I rate Pattinson very highly as well. Both can become world class. Though I don't think anyone comes close to Mohammed Amir as a bowler. I think Amir is the bowler of this generation and it is a real pity to world cricket that we are losing out on a talent like him. I don't think Hilfenhaus will ever be better than good and nor will Siddle be better than good (though he tries very very hard, a likeable trait in a guy). Ryan Harris is also very good but he is 33 and has played 12 tests in 3 years for Australia. So doesn't look like he is going to play all that much.

  • Dummy4 on December 12, 2012, 8:21 GMT

    A team is a team focussed to go for a win and not be about stars and personalities. Not important who is in it and who is out serving drinks. Win is what counts. India is having a problem now with star studded lineup thats good for nothing. Real madrid faced that a few years ago.

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