Mitchell Starc's debut day for Australia began with a pep-talk from Richie Benaud. It ended with two wickets and an enhanced reputation.
Only six years a fast bowler after previously playing as a wicketkeeper, 21-year-old Starc's natural gifts of speed, swing and bounce were all in evidence in the first Test against New Zealand at the Gabba. With a little more time and training, some critical consistency may yet be added as well.
While he enjoyed a fair slice of good fortune in collecting the wickets of Brendon McCullum and Jesse Ryder with wide deliveries, it was the ones that did not collect wickets that were more striking. His second swung sharply enough to almost cut McCullum in two, and another glanced off the helmet as the opener was too slow to duck. Asked if he bowled better deliveries than those that reaped his wickets, Starc grinned.
"Definitely, I think the wickets I got were a bit of luck with them, I was a little bit inconsistent but pretty happy with how I went in the end," Starc said. "I feel like my bowling's been pretty good the last few weeks, it's coming out pretty well, and I've just got to work on that consistency to get that ball swinging, and to see it do a bit today was fantastic."
Benaud presented Starc with his baggy green cap, as a fellow New South Welshman but also a fellow passenger on the plane back from Brisbane a year ago, after Starc had taken 4 for 27 against Sri Lanka in an ODI.
"It was a special moment for me [receiving the cap] and I won't forget that moment for the rest of my life," Starc said. "He just said a few things, the last few years he's been watching me, and I actually sat on a plane home with him after the ODI I played here last year. That wasn't a big conversation, but little things were said there at the end."
James Pattinson took the new ball, but he and Starc both needed help staying calm at times, and Starc credited both the pre-match planning to not be fazed by early McCullum boundaries, and the soothing words of Peter Siddle, the most experienced member of the attack.
Australia's planning was again driven by the bowling coach Craig McDermott's desire for a fuller length, and it is he, alongside Troy Cooley at the Centre of Excellence, who has shaped Starc's bowling with Australia. In New South Wales, Starc was first prompted to try pace bowling by Neil D'Costa, also the mentor of Michael Clarke and Phillip Hughes, while the former one-Test bowler Matthew Nicholson has also coached him.
"Brendon McCullum's a pretty dangerous player, and he can score pretty quickly," Starc said. "But we felt if we could get the ball up there in a good spot and get our fielders in play, we talked about if they're going to drive us through the covers we're happy to take a few runs and create those chances. It was good to see the back of Brendon pretty early.
"[Siddle] was great today, he spoke to Patto and I a lot when we were bowling and trying to keep us in the present and keep the plans focused, so he was great today and bowled well as well."