Mitchell Starc has been released from his AUD1.8 million IPL contract with Kolkata Knight Riders ahead of a 2019 that features the World Cup and an Ashes tour, as Cricket Australia haggles with player managers over the balance between international commitments and T20 riches.
While players complained to the Simon Longstaff/Rick McCosker cultural review of CA that they were too often treated as commodities, the market value of Australia's best fast bowlers is a source of increasing debate. Starc, who will join Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon in New South Wales' Sheffield Shield match against Queensland in Canberra from Saturday, said he was happy to prioritise internationals over the IPL, but admitted the security of a longer-term CA deal would be attractive.
India's captain Virat Kohli has sought assurances that his best fast men would not have to push through a full IPL schedule ahead of next year's World Cup in England, and it has been revealed that the agent - and players' union executive member and Cricket NSW Board director - Neil Maxwell was seeking a longer-term contract for his client Cummins from the departing team performance manager Pat Howard. That discussion will now sit with the interim performance chief Belinda Clark.
"I got a text message two days ago from the owners of Kolkata saying I've been released from my contract, so at the moment I'll be home in April," Starc said in Sydney. "It's an interesting one. As far as I'm aware everyone's on one year at the moment [with CA]. It's a bit of a changing time with people at CA and that's a better question for those behind the scenes with CA with what they want to do with contracting. For us we're not so worried about contracts at the moment, it's about performing on the field and that will take care of the rest of it come contract time whenever that is.
"I'm sure it would [provide security] for a lot of people, it's probably no different to working life outside of the sporting field. When you look at some of the dollars involved in the IPL and some for the T20 leagues around the world, for guys who might be on the fringe or what to concentrate on T20 cricket, it's very beneficial to play. At the moment for me I just want to play as much Test and one-day cricket as I can, and the IPL is a lovely bonus on the pay packet, but if I miss that to play more Test matches, I'm taking that option."
The jumbled international schedule will see Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins and Lyon playing Shield cricket opposite Australia playing T20s against South Africa and India, as they prioritise the Test matches to follow. "That was essentially the reason we weren't considered for the T20s at all, to try and get some red ball cricket ahead of the Test matches coming up," Starc said. "Whether we play one or two Shield games it's important we get some good game time with bat and ball against the red one and try to perform coming into that first Test.
"As bowlers we're under no illusion that you can't play every game and it is very important for us to find that red ball form heading into a massive Test series as well. I think I've played two T20 games in the last four years. Although it'd be nice to play every game that you can for Australia when available, you've got to look at the bigger picture sometimes and for us it's performing the best we can in Test cricket for Australia.
"Test cricket is definitely the No. 1 for me, but I'm playing one-day cricket as well and that's another format that I love and we've got a World Cup coming up next year as well. I love playing Shield cricket, love playing Test match cricket, you can't play every game on the schedule, it's keeping one eye on what's coming up and that's a massive Test series, so for us its preparing through Shield cricket and heading into the back end of the summer come February and March, it's a lot of one-day cricket heading into that World Cup. So you do have to change with different times of the year."
Speaking on Howard's final official day at CA, after seven years of increasing micromanagement for fast bowlers, Starc said that the imperfect science behind decisions on when he and his pace compatriots would continue to divide opinion. "I don't think there's a perfect way to do it," he said. "With the schedule the way it is, how much cricket we've got on when guys are injured and you've got a lot of people out, there's no perfect answer.
"No matter which way you go, someone's always going to be on their back about it and there's plenty of people writing or talking about it. They're not trying to stop us play cricket, they're trying to look after bowlers. It's not about stopping them bowling, it's about being smarter around training and preparation. There's a lot of sports science these days, they're in the job to help bowlers bowl for longer, and faster and stay on the park."
Starc was shifted from taking the new ball to first change in the opening ODI against South Africa, a gamble that was quickly backtracked upon by the captain Aaron Finch, but said he was quite prepared to alter his role in the national side if it meant better results over the next nine months up to and including the World Cup, which was won by Australia at home in 2015.
"It was a different role for me the other day, and it changed pretty quickly from the plan that it was going to be, a small target to defend and I had to come on earlier than what Finchy may have wanted," Starc said. "Coults [Nathan Coulter-Nile] had been swinging the ball and bowling fast and had opened the bowling for Australia when a few of us weren't around.
"We've got a group of bowlers who can perform different roles at different stages. Whether that means my role changes or whether I go back to the new ball role, you've just got to be flexible. It's period where we need to find our way to win cricket games. If that means going away from what we've done in the past and my role changes, then so be it."