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News

Smith: 'That's the best I've seen Starc bowl in a while'

The left-arm seamer took a lead role in the pace attack in the absence of Cummins and Hazlewood

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
20-Dec-2021
Australia stand-in captain Steven Smith singled out Mitchell Starc for special praise after his role in the thumping 275-run victory in Adelaide, which put them 2-0 up in the Ashes as they overcame the pre-match disruption of losing Pat Cummins.
In the absence of Cummins, who was a close contact of a Covid-positive person the night before the game, and Josh Hazlewood because of a side strain, Starc took a lead role in a pace attack that also featured debutant Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson in his third Test and Cameron Green in his sixth.
Starc finished with match figures of 6 for 80 from 43.1 overs - comfortably the lowest economy rate of his career - and the game would likely have finished far earlier than the night session on the fifth day if the edge off Jos Buttler, when he had nought, had been held by wicketkeeper Alex Carey. It would have meant Starc claiming Buttler for a pair and maintaining a stranglehold on the England wicketkeeper.
However, Starc's role in the second innings was still significant as he removed Joe Root with what became the final ball of the fourth day - the fact England still managed to take the game as deep as they did reinforce the value of that incision - and he claimed Ollie Pope early on the final morning.
In the first innings, he had removed Rory Burns cheaply once again before claiming three further wickets to become the first bowler to take 50 scalps in day-night Tests.
"I think that's the best I've seen him bowl in a while," Smith said. "He summed up the conditions really well, he realised it wasn't swinging and was just able to hit a really nice line and length and did it all game. Thought he bowled exceptionally well and led the attack.
"To have got [Root] out last night was huge for us; he was obviously in a fair amount of pain, but I won't take anything away from how Starcy bowled either. He set him up really nicely, came round the wicket because he was leaving him pretty well."
During the Test, Starc went past Jason Gillespie into eighth on Australia's all-time list and now has 264 wickets at 27.35. His strike rate of 49.3 is the sixth-lowest of any bowler with more than 200 wickets. Beginning with dismissing Burns on the first ball of the series at the Gabba, his performances have removed any debate about his position in the XI.
"He's a class bowler; he has been for a long time," Smith said. "His strike rate is up there with some of the best who have played Test cricket. I just really liked the way he went about his business this week. He took complete control, he was bowling such beautiful line and length, taking the ball across the right-hander and bowling really nicely to lefties. He did a terrific job and created chances throughout the whole match, just continued his pink-ball form."
For Smith, the match was also a personal triumph as he returned to the captaincy, even if temporarily, for the first time since the ball-tampering scandal. He only found out he would be leading the team about three hours before the toss on Thursday when Cricket Australia conceded they weren't able to select Cummins. He marshalled an attack stripped of 386 Test wickets with expertise and was also able to contribute with the bat as his 93 ensured Australia's early grip on the match did not slip away.
"It's been an enjoyable week leading the team in Pat's absence and carrying on what we started at the Gabba," Smith said. "It brought back some old memories, I guess, I had fun out there. It's Patty's team and I'm the vice-captain and I'll help Patrick in any way I can. That's my job, and I'll continue to hopefully lead with the bat."

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo