The Investec Ashes 2013

Pain-free Starc narrows aim on Cook

Daniel Brettig in Worcester

July 4, 2013

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Mitchell Starc prepares to bowl in the nets, Worcester, July 1, 2013
Mitchell Starc is fully fit after struggling with bone spurs in his ankle over the Australian summer © Getty Images
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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

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Posted by TenDonebyaShooter on (July 6, 2013, 19:32 GMT)

This reminds me of a passage in the late Peter Roebuck's book on the 1986-7 Ashes series where he suggests that Australian selectors appear to have a bit of a fixation about English batters' weakness against left arm pace. In that series, Australia picked a left-arm quick called Chris Matthews, and it was not a success. Johnson's trials against England will be more fresh in the memory. It is true that there have been Australian left-armers who've been more successful in the Ashes (eg, Bruce Reid and Alan Davidson), but this suggest it is good bowling which will reap rewards, not necessarily left-arm bowling. It reminds one of the obsession that England have sometimes had regarding Austalian batters' supposed unfamiliarity with off-spin, which led them mistakenly to pick Miller and Hemmings rather than Edmonds for the 1982-3 series. @EMP take your point about some inflammatory postings from England fans, but note that Harmison, unlike Johnson, won 2 of the 4 Ashes series he played in

Posted by H_Z_O on (July 6, 2013, 11:11 GMT)

@ScottStevo I was exaggerating for effect (nobody's as bad as Dernbach) but while he's a wicket-taker, Kleinveldt has a nasty habit of letting the pressure off. That's a big strength of that Saffer unit, Steyn, Morkel, Philander, Kallis, they keep coming at you and there's no easy runs. Missing Duminy at Brisbane also hurt their options (the all-pace attack thing was built around Duminy filling in as the spinner).

They were also well on top at Brisbane before the rain came (255-2, both Kallis and Amla set). Amla went 14 runs later, 10 wickets fell on that third day (more than on any other day). Who knows who the rain hurt more? Missing Duminy weakened the batting (don't laugh, his record might be somewhat middling but he's got a big 166 against you lot before). Like I said, Australia played much better cricket against the Saffers than we did, but I don't think you were unlucky to lose.

What it did show, however, is that you have quality, and England underestimate you at their peril.

Posted by Harmony111 on (July 6, 2013, 6:28 GMT)

I can't understand why some Oz fans keep spreading the lie that Aus were unfortunate to lose the last Aus-SA Test Series? It was SA who were unlucky. IIRC they were a man short in Test 1 and Test 2. Moreover, an imp day's play was lost in the 1st test where SA lost the entire momentum they have built till then. Even then, SA managed to draw both those. In the 3rd test at Perth, when SA had all 11 men available, they hit top gear and not only destroyed Aus batting in the 2nd innings but completely tore apart their bowling in the 3rd innings. It showed that once they had 11 men, they gradually got better as that test went on.

The only saving grace for Aus in that series was that they did not lose by a bigger margin. Many factors went in their favour for that and so Aus must consider themselves LUCKY for a smaller loss than calling themselves unlucky.

Posted by ScottStevo on (July 5, 2013, 23:29 GMT)

@HZO, totally agree, those series count for nothing come Ashes time. Don't be too quick to label a bowler rubbish, he was v similar to Bresnan - and he picks up wickets. We were also without Pattinson in the second innings at Adelaide, so that makes up for Kallis being injured - though it didnt effect his batting too much, mainly because he's class. Youre right, you can pick and choose numbers however you like. As the great H Simpson once said, you can use statistics to prove anything - 14% of people know that!

Posted by H_Z_O on (July 5, 2013, 19:24 GMT)

That said, Greatest_Game's right, so I'll just quote him again:

"As far as the Ashes go, all that means nothing."

We start fresh. The India series results don't matter, the South Africa results don't matter, what will matter will be the 25 days of hard cricket coming up. Seems a bit daft to argue about past series when it won't matter one jot to the outcome of the Ashes.

Posted by H_Z_O on (July 5, 2013, 19:16 GMT)

@ScottStevo While I agree that you played better against the Saffers than we did, you also got to face Rory Kleinveldt, a man who makes Jade Dernbach look like Glenn McGrath. Yet you still made him look good at Adelaide (3-65. Hilfenhaus got 3-49 in the first innings, Siddle 4-65 in the second). Kallis was injured at Adelaide too and came in down the order, nowhere near fit (and still got runs). He only got the 196 runs off your first choice attack (no excuses there) at Brisbane, so his form was clearly, as Hatsforbats put it, "rubbish". Not to mention the loss of his bowling (2 wickets off his 3.3 overs at Adelaide). You also had Mike Hussey (259 runs at 59) who isn't playing in this series. When we left Swann out at Headingley, KP got 4-78. Lyon's best figures against SA? 5-140.

Now do you see that numbers don't tell the whole story? We played South Africa in different circumstances, and different conditions. And your loss wasn't undeserved, Test series are a marathon, not a sprint.

Posted by ScottStevo on (July 5, 2013, 16:08 GMT)

@Greatest_Game, Think you'll find it's you a little hazy with your history. England eeked their way to 51 runs short, but were always going to get beaten and at no stage in their series looked anywhere near winning a session let alone an entire test as they were outplayed and outclassed by a side they couldn't compete with. On the other hand, Aus had SA effectively 50-5 in their second innings ( a day of rain spoiling a result - where only one side was in serious contention of winning) and another where SA batted for 9 hours to salvage a draw from what was a hopeless position. If they'd been "in form", batting for 9 hours they'd have chased down just about any total - right? Agree, however, in the last test we batted poorly and gifted them a totally undeserved series victory.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (July 5, 2013, 14:25 GMT)

@ HatsforBats. Unfortunately, you fail to understand history.

You claim that in Perth Aus had a 4/5th choice attack. Why DID Aus not bowl Siddle, Hilf & Pattinson? BOWLING INJURIES! In Adelaide, Pattinson was injured inns 1, but Siddle & Hilf bowled 9 hours at "rubbish form SA," taking just 8 wickets. It broke them. IF Aus lost Perth due to a " 4th/5th choice bowling attack," then INJURIES PREVENTED THEM FROM REGAINING #1.

OR … Johnson/Starc are NOT 4/5th choice: they had Aus' SERIES BEST bowling Ave & SR vs SA; vs SL, Johnson had the 3rd best Ave & best SR; they were 3rd & 4th best in India; Starc is in the Ashes. Not 4th/5th choice attack stats, are they?

In Perth, Aus BATSMEN failed. Aus totaled 495 runs. The bowlers scored 141, or 28.48%. Starc had the co-highest inns score.

The Perth loss truth: injuries made Aus field at worst a 2nd choice attack, but Aus' BATSMEN failed, scoring LESS than "rubbish SA" did in the other 2 tests when batting against Aus' 1st choice attack!

Posted by   on (July 5, 2013, 11:50 GMT)

England and South Africa do all the important things right. I feel that the Aussie side under Border laid the foundation for domination later for several reasons. And while McGrath, Warne, Gilchrist et all made it happen, Border's side focused on getting the basics right - holding catches, converting tough singles from the batting side into run outs, and not giving away their own wickets to run outs. We have some wonderful fielders in the Aussie squad but very rarely do you see the side make run outs and dropped catches are regular. I'd be really pleased to see Aus knuckle down on these again - even if they don't win they'll compete much harder this way.

Posted by HatsforBats on (July 5, 2013, 10:10 GMT)

@Greatest_Game, did you miss the point I was trying to make? I think you might have. Bowling injuries have not prevented Australia from being one of the top sides. Like I wrote before, the injuries get more media and opposition attention than is warranted, particularly as England have their own steady stream. Re: the Perth test it would've been laughable had SA not been able to dominate the 4th or 5th choice bowling attack, but given their rubbish form in the first two games it might not have been suprising.

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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