Pain-free Starc narrows aim on Cook
Pain-free for the first time in more than six months, Mitchell Starc has promised Australia's bowlers will not give Alastair Cook a moment's peace in the middle, encouraged - but not made complacent - by the England captain's difficulties against left-arm pace.
Starc revealed he relied on painkilling injections in his ankle for most of last summer and the tour of India that followed, before returning home when even the jabs did not mask the discomfort caused by bone spurs. The time away from the bowling crease allowed Starc time to observe Cook and company facing up to New Zealand's battery of left-armers, and said both he and James Faulkner now fancied their chances.
"As a group we have paid a lot of close attention to that New Zealand and England series," Starc said. "For me and James Faulkner, being left armers, it was great to see a few of their guys really struggle against the left-armers. I'm sure they have gone away now and worked at that, but it's encouraging. We'll have to find a lot of different ways if things aren't happening, to get them out. We can't just rest on his struggles against the left-armers.
"It's a point of difference for us and hopefully we can get that ball swinging for as long as we can. It's all about early wickets and being very aggressive against him being the captain of the side. They're going to do the same thing to Michael, so as a bowling group we have to make sure we're very aggressive as well."
The problems faced by Starc across the summer were a point of some consternation when he was kept out of the Boxing Day Test against Sri Lanka for preventative reasons, and the bowler himself registered his displeasure at the time. But the management of the issue allowed Starc to take part in most of the summer and only miss being available for one Test in India, and as shown against Somerset he is now running into form at the right time.
"I've got no pain now, it was very painful in India," Starc said. "It's something I don't have to worry about now, or worry about having a jab or being careful bowling this many balls, it's all gone. It got pretty bad in that last Test in Mohali and injections weren't working. It was more the one we didn't know about, it wasn't the one we picked up around Christmas time, it was the one that broke off and we didn't know about and I went back for surgery."
Starc's first international since Mohali was Australia's ruinous defeat by England in the Champions Trophy. Tentative by his own admission, Starc said he had progressed a long way since his first ball of the match to Cook drifted harmlessly onto the pads. "I was still working on my rhythm and getting through that tentative spot as you do after an injury. I feel in a great place at the moment," he said. "The last three weeks have been as good as I have felt in a long time. I'm happy with where my body is and where my bowling is."
A packed first day crowd at Taunton were witness to Starc's destructive power when he finds the right gear. After Somerset had careered to 304 for 2, Starc and James Pattinson capitalised on Faulkner's breakthrough to scoop an outrageous 6 for 0 with the second new ball, as part of a slide to 320 all out. Though heartened by the burst, Starc noted that next time he did not wish to wait until the 81st over at Trent Bridge to start wreaking similar havoc.
"We knew we needed to finish the day well," he said. "It was a tough toil through the middle period on a very flat wicket. Going into that last spell with the new ball we spoke to each other before we started and said we wanted to try and get three wickets in that last spell before close. To bowl them out we were happy with that and got to put our feet up for a couple of days. That second new ball is what we need to produce with the first new ball."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here