was "jittery" on Tuesday evening as he followed the IPL 2024 auction at his home in Sydney. It had already been a busy day for Starc: he had mowed the lawn, walked the dogs, done his shopping rounds and made himself dinner.
Starc waited anxiously for his name to come up for bidding in the fourth set comprising capped fast bowlers. His Australia captain and friend Pat Cummins had already gone to Sunrisers Hyderabad for INR 20.5 crore (US$2.569 mn approx.), surpassing the record set by England allrounder Sam Curran at the 2023 auction to become the IPL's most expensive player ever.
That distinction, several pundits and franchises heads had believed in the lead-up to the auction, would belong to Starc. Nearly two-and-a-half hours into the auction in Dubai, player Number 28's name came up for bidding: Starc.
Starc and everyone else following the auction wouldn't believe what was about to transpire. Mumbai Indians owner Akash Ambani and his counterpart at Delhi Capitals, Kiran Gandhe, started the bidding. At the INR 9.4 crore mark, Gandhe pulled out. Enter Kolkata Knight Riders at the INR 9.8 crore mark. The Knight Riders had been favorites to bid for Starc on the eve of the auction. After all, they had signed him for INR 9.4 crore at the 2018 auction, but Starc had to pull out due to injury.
After Mumbai, too, dropped out, Gujarat Titans locked into a bidding contest with Knight Riders. Several tense minutes followed as both franchises raised their bidding towards Cummins' price tag. The auction room let out a sigh of excitement when Starc surpassed Cummins. Finally, after nearly 17 minutes of bidding, Knight Riders had Starc at INR 24.75 crore. The most expensive player tag had moved from Cummins to Starc in less than two hours.
Starc was as gobsmacked as his wife Alyssa Healy, who was relaying updates from Mumbai where she is part of the Australia women's tour of India, which starts with a one-off Test this week. In a chat with Star Sports, Starc said he had been "intrigued" about how he would fare, and wasn't prepared to end up making history.
"I'm not sure any words would do it justice, really," Starc said with a chuckle, asked to recount his reaction to Knight Riders' winning bid. "Alyssa was over there with the Australian team at the minute, so her coverage was slightly ahead of mine here in Australia. So she sort of saw the numbers before I did, so I was getting the updates through her. But, yeah, a fair bit of shock, and certainly excitement with how it was all unfolding. But nothing that I could've ever imagined. Thoroughly thrilled to be joining KKR."
Starc has played only two seasons of the IPL - in 2014 and 2015, at Royal Challengers Bangalore, who had picked him up at INR 5 crore. He then decided to manage his workload for a few years before deciding to enter the auction ahead of the 2018 season. Even then the Knight Riders had bet big money on Starc who they believe has all the skills to be a serial match-winner. These included his ability to bowl in the 140-150 kph range while generating conventional and reverse swing, flooring batters and breaking stumps with toe-crushing yorkers, mix things up with a wicked slower ball, all this with the added threat of his left-arm angle, as well as provide depth to their batting with his lower-order hitting.
Unfortunately, Starc hurt his tibia, ruling him out of the 2018 season. But six seasons later, Starc is happy to play in Knight Riders' colours. "Firstly, it's exciting to be back involved," he said. "Secondly, it's more of a bit of a shock and a surprise, I guess."
The Knight Riders had come to the auction with a remaining purse of 32.7 crore with the most slots to fill of any team - 12 including four overseas players. As soon as the auction began, they got to work by raising their paddle for West Indies allrounder Rovman Powell, who ended up going to Rajasthan Royals. The Knight Riders would eventually walk out with 10 new signings.
Incredibly, the nine others apart from Starc were all signed at their base price. As Knight Riders CEO Venky Mysore said after acquiring Starc, you can "slice" the purse in different ways.
But how do you make sense of a team spending INR 24.75 crore, or 75.69 % of the purse they started the auction with, on a single player? Starc was laughing himself. "They are amazing numbers, aren't they?" He understands the pressure and expectatins that will come with the price tag as soon as the season begins. But he has qualities not many possess: vast experience, and the experience of winning World Cups in high-pressure situations. "I'm 33 now, so I've had to deal with a few ups and downs and pressures of certain games," he said. "I would like to think that I can keep that in check, but that always comes with the territory when some of those numbers get added to the anticipation of an upcoming season as well.
"It's been a long time since I played in IPL in 2014 and '15 and have obviously played a fair bit of cricket since then. A lot of it for Australia in different formats. There's been a lot of white-ball cricket there [in India] across a few World Cup campaigns, and so that experience is there and a little bit of leadership if you like, in terms of the experience side of things in white-ball cricket that hopefully I can bring to bring to KKR as well and play my part there. And being able to bowl at different stages I think is something that's held firm throughout."
While he sat out of the IPL, Starc never felt uneasy. His had chalked out his priorities, and had been focused on performing for Australia. He played a key role in a historic 2023, in which Australia won the World Test Championship final, retained the Ashes, and then overcame a dominant India in the final of the World Cup in front of a 90,000-plus crowd in Ahmedabad.
Starc now believes he is ready for the IPL ."I've probably prioritised international cricket firstly for a long time whilst having a bit of a taste of IPL and Big Bash in Australia." he said. "I've always held firm that I've wanted to play my best cricket for Australia and make myself available for Australia where I can. At the same time, the temptation to go back to IPL and how exciting it is to be involved in such a great tournament, big names, big players, big stages - it's too hard to pass up. There's a place to play all of it. it's just being mindful and putting the work ethic in to be able to do all of it."
The Eden Gardens also holds good memories for Starc. On November 16, he took a three-for and then batted resolutely with Cummins in a tense chase of 213 against South Africa in the World Cup semi-finals
. "I'm very much looking forward to playing as the home team and experiencing that home crowd [at Eden Gardens]," he said. "Some new colors to pull on and a new challenge to look forward to."
What can the passionate Knight Riders fan expect then from Starc? "Hopefully, more of the success that I've had over some time - swinging the new ball, reversing the old, and trying to smack those wickets."
As for the present, Starc is looking forward to meeting Cummins ahead of training on Wednesday as they get ready to join the rest of the Australia squad in Melbourne for the Boxing Day Test against Pakistan. "It could be an interesting conversation between the bowling group tomorrow and the gym," he said, with a laugh.
While he and Healy will spend the rest of 2023 indulging in a "Christmas of cricket" in different continents, Starc is happy to share the joy he and Cummins have experienced today with rest of the Australia squad. "The team chat has been going nuts," he said. "The are all saying it's our shout, so we'll just go about our business and get ready for the next Test match. But a few of our Australian team-mates might be waiting for us to treat them."
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo