Starc hopes red-ball resurgence will last
There is not a bowler on the planet who has more international wickets this year than Mitchell Starc. His tally of 75 puts him well in front of the second-placed Yasir Shah. Extend it to the combined first-class, List A and T20 formats, and Starc is even further in front: his 138 wickets across those forms have come at the remarkable average of 16.07, and John Hastings is next with 108 wickets.
In short, Starc is in the form of his life. Player of the Tournament in the World Cup, he last month annihilated almost every team in the Matador Cup with 26 wickets at 8.11, then topped off his Test preparation with eight wickets with the pink ball in last week's Sheffield Shield round. Now it is back to the red ball to see if that recent form translates.
It has not always. In fact, with Starc, something has always seemed to get lost in translation between the white ball and the red. It meant that the first three years of his Test career resembled the hokey-pokey: Australia put their left-armer in, they put their left-armer out, they put their left-armer in. Now it's time for him to shake it all about.
He made a good start to a red-ball resurgence during the Ashes, when he was Australia's leading wicket taker, and now the challenge is to sustain that same form over a six-Test home summer against New Zealand and West Indies. It was against New Zealand at the Gabba that Starc made his Test debut four years ago, but it is only now that he is starting to make himself a consistent Test bowler.
"The last 12 to 18 months, to play a lot of cricket I think has been the best thing for me," Starc said. "There's only so much you can learn and work on in the nets. I guess I've had a bit of an extended run with the white ball and whether it be through form or through injury I haven't had that with the red ball. To have a bit of that in the last six months has been nice and I think that's probably shown in getting better with the red ball."
Starc played every Test during this year's Ashes in England and was his country's leading wicket taker, an achievement that encouraged not only Starc but the Australian coaching staff as well. Coach Darren Lehmann said that although there were times in England that Starc lacked consistency, he expected a big summer from him back home.
"He'll be fine, I think it's just experience and confidence," Lehmann said. "He's had some really good spells for us over the last 12 months with the red ball. It's probably about being really consistent with what he wants to achieve, getting the lengths and lines right. He was very good at stages in England and then sometimes he leaked too many runs. I expect him to bowl really well with the red ball [at home]."
Starc's form is so impressive at the moment - particularly his mastery of the fast, inswinging yorker - that plenty of Matador Cup batsmen must have wished the Bangladesh Test tour had gone ahead last month and he had not been let loose on them in Sydney. Cricket Australia insisted he rest from one of the matches, against Queensland, but he told them that he otherwise just wanted to keep bowling.
"I had a bit of input, so I wanted to play a lot," Starc said. "I didn't want to rest that Queensland game but they got that one over the line - resting's not going to do anything for my body. I just want to be available for every game, as long as I'm fit enough and bowling well enough."
Australia will hope that New Zealand still carry some of the scars from the World Cup final in March, when Starc's inswinging yorker rattled the stumps of Brendon McCullum in the first over of the match, setting the tone for Australia's win. Starc took 2 for 20 in that game, as well as 6 for 28 in the earlier group match against New Zealand in Auckland, and he hopes they remember.
"We'll definitely be reminding them that we've bowled them out for 150 and 180 on very good wickets," he said. "It's one-day cricket, it's something we can look back on and take a bit of confidence from but it's a different challenge and nice to be playing in Australia and taking on guys that probably haven't played too much cricket in these conditions."
New Zealand opener Martin Guptill said it was important he and his team-mates prepared for Starc's yorker, but did not let it dominate their thoughts.
"He's got a very quick yorker and it does swing, but you don't want to just be preparing for that," Guptill said. "He's got other balls in his arsenal as well. You've just got to watch the ball and play each ball as well as you can. I'm just trying to go out there and do my processes, and if I get a yorker I try and clamp down on it."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale