Starc on road to full fitness, hopes to gain pace
Mitchell Starc has declared the ankle operation that he underwent five weeks ago such a good move that it might help him gain pace when he returns to bowling this year. Starc has been named in Australia's squads for the Ashes and the Champions Trophy one-day tournament, which begins in early June, and he is expected to be fit by then, after having surgery on his left ankle following his early departure from the Test tour of India in March.
Starc played through pain in the third Test in Mohali before being sent home for the operation and he said he was already free of the discomfort that had troubled him before. Starc, 23, plays all three formats for Australia and given his ability to swing the ball, he is likely to be a key man in the Ashes campaign, hence Cricket Australia's eagerness to ensure he would not be carrying a niggle that could hamper his productivity.
"The spur on the inside didn't bother me much; that's why we were talking about getting through hopefully 12 months [without surgery]," Starc told reporters in Brisbane on Wednesday. "But we'd found one on the outside that had broken off, that was the one that bothered me most in India, and I didn't know about that one until I got back to Australia. That Test in Mohali it was pretty painful... so with the timeline that we needed to be right for the Ashes, we needed to come home and get it done.
"I've been back in the gym, doing my fitness stuff for three weeks now, so I'm feeling good. I've got more movement in my ankle now than I did after the first surgery three or four years ago. It could work in my favour, maybe an extra yard or two of pace if I'm lucky. But the pain's gone now so that's the main thing, [I've had] a few months of bowling through pain and a few injections but I'm past that and ready to hit the ground running."
Starc is not the only fast bowler in Australia's Champions Trophy squad who is currently on the mend: Clint McKay, Australia's reigning One-Day International Cricketer of the Year, finished the summer battling a stress reaction in his right foot. He, too, is expected to be fully fit by the time the one-day tournament begins, but the new ODI vice-captain George Bailey said regardless, the Australians had developed enough depth over the summer to ease any concerns.
"I think they've both played enough cricket now to know what they can and can't do," Bailey said of Starc and McKay. "One of the pleasing things for me coming to the back end of the summer was that it felt like we were starting to have a stronger squad, or a stronger team balance. One of the keys for this sort of tournament is making sure that you're not necessarily relying on one or two, but that on any given day, any one of your squad can step in and do a really important role for you."
This will be the first time Bailey has been part of Australia's team for a major ODI tournament and he is part of the changing face of Australia's one-day side. Australia have won the past two Champions Trophy events, in 2006 and 2009, but only four members of the 2009 squad - Clarke, Shane Watson, Mitchell Johnson and Adam Voges - are back to defend the title. Australia have slipped to third on the ODI rankings and while Bailey knows the team is not the all-conquering outfit of past years, he is confident they can come away from England with the trophy.
"It is a big tournament," Bailey said. "We've won it twice. It's a big goal for us and a point to prove, that we're back on track with our one-day cricket and see if we can win it for the third time. I think we've had enough wake-up calls over the last 12 to 15 months to know that we're not a powerhouse in one-day cricket any more.
"I still think we can be the best side in the world at one-day cricket but certainly not by the margin it was two, three or four years ago. I don't think there's any pressure about being defending champions. The longer-term goal for us is to make sure we play more consistent cricket."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here