Starc set to miss Ashes with back injury
Mitchell Starc is unlikely to play in Australia's home Ashes campaign after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his lower back. Starc flew home from the ongoing limited-overs series in England due to back soreness and scans have shown that his injury will rule him out for "a prolonged period", almost certainly meaning that he will be unavailable for at least the start of the Ashes, if not the whole series.
Australia have already suffered similar injury blows in their fast-bowling ranks with James Pattinson sent home from the Ashes tour of England and Pat Cummins ruled out of the coming home summer, both with stress fractures of the lower back. Starc, 23, was Australia's third leading wicket taker during the unsuccessful Ashes campaign in England with 11 wickets at 32.45, and he would have been a likely starter for the first Test at the Gabba.
"Mitch Starc had scans following his arrival back to Australia and they have shown an early stage low back stress fracture," Justin Paolini, Cricket Australia's chief medical officer, said. "His management plan will be determined in the coming days but he is expected to be unavailable for a prolonged period."
Pat Howard, CA's general manager of team performance, said it was disappointing that Starc had succumbed to a stress fracture but that young fast bowlers were particularly susceptible to such injuries. In releasing the details of Starc's injury, CA stressed that few fast bowlers in Australia's history had bowled as many deliveries in Test cricket as Starc and Pattinson by the age of 23.
"Historically, we've rarely seen three such promising young fast bowlers come through at the same time and all of a similar age so when they get injured of course that will be disappointing," Howard said. "We're doing our best to minimise longer term injuries, but we are also realistic that such injuries are possible.
"Looking at a comparison of some of Australia's best quicks at the age of 23, Pattinson and Starc are second and third on the list behind Craig McDermott in terms of performance. What that tells us is we have a greater reliance on younger fast bowlers at international level than ever before and we're getting the most we can out of these talented young players, who are all coming through into international cricket together."
However, there was some good news for Australia, with Jackson Bird cleared of any major injury concerns after he flew home from the Ashes tour early due to back soreness. Bird, who played only the fourth Test in Durham and collected two wickets, is expected to be available for the start of the home Ashes if required.
"Jackson returned home from the tour of England with some lower back soreness," Paolini said. "We have ruled out a major injury but will review scans in two weeks to confirm this. We expect that he will be available during the Ashes."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here