Starc wants Johnson tandem at the Gabba
Mitchell Starc has insisted that he and Mitchell Johnson can be trusted together as tandem members of Australia's Test bowling attack despite an unsuccessful pairing during this year's Ashes series in England.
The question of whether the national selectors can afford to play both explosive left-armers against New Zealand in Brisbane has been percolating ever since the Ashes tour began to go awry earlier this year, and some voices within the team are known to have expressed doubts about the balance of the attack when both are included.
Darren Lehmann, the coach, added interest to the debate by recently indicating that in the field the team needed to "get control back" and that the team leaders "make sure those blokes that are playing if they are attacking bowlers they've still got to be able to defend as well". However, Starc felt that he and Johnson should be given the chance to hunt New Zealand's batsmen as they did during the World Cup final in March.
"It worked pretty well in the World Cup," Starc said after taking another three wickets as New South Wales clinched the Matador Cup. "There's times where that's happened [runs leaking] in the past, but there's times when it's worked really well in tandem. I don't think you can put it down to one series where you all of a sudden rule us both out of playing together again. So there's times when it's going to work and times when it's not going to come off.
"I don't see any point worrying about whether you've got two left-armers or two right-armers, you pick your best XI on any given day. If that's Mitch and I or if it's two other guys so be it, we're just going to be working our butts off through the Shield round and then depending on who's in the squad and whether we're both in there or not we'll lead up to that first Test."
Physical wellness does not appear to be a problem for Starc at present, as he revealed he has not needed to resort to any further painkilling injections on his ankle during the domestic limited overs tournament. In taking 26 wickets in six games he wrecked the ambitions of every team he crossed paths with, finishing the job by once again defeating Travis Head in the first over of South Australia's innings.
"I've got a few up my sleeve at the moment," Starc said of cortisone injections for his ankle, which flared up during the Cardiff Ashes Test and has been managed carefully since. "I haven't had one since I got back from England, so it's a good sign to get through the Matador Cup without having the need for an injection, but it's going to be a bit of a test next week in the Shield game.
"That consistency's there with the white ball, the way it's come out of hand in the past 12 months especially is pleasing, but I still feel there's a way to go in improvement with the white ball, and definitely with the red. If I can take this consistency over the last three weeks into the summer with the red ball it would be fantastic."
Head, meanwhile, was left to lament a heavy defeat for a young Redbacks side. Their inability to cope with the Blues was epitomised by his own dismissal to Starc, as a fast, late swinging delivery clipped the outside of the off stump for the second time in as many meetings between batsman and bowler.
"Exactly the same dismissal," Head said. Probably play a bit straighter is what I'm thinking. I'm saying that but when it swings that late there's not that much I can do. It's a little bit of a technical thing but something I've got to work on and I enjoy that, it's a good challenge.
"It does remind us there is a fair way to go. We've worked really hard but there still is a gap between probably the best team in Australia at the moment and a lot of players in good form and playing for Australia for the right reasons. It's great for us to get the challenge against them. Today showed we're a little bit off, but we're pretty close and moving in the right direction."
Players on both sides will reconvene against each other in a day/night Sheffield Shield match at Adelaide Oval from Wednesday, and Starc was noticeably tight-lipped about the pink ball after criticising it earlier in the year. "We got through the session," was all he would say about how it fared at training. "We'll look to see what the conditions are in Adelaide and adjust to it there."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig