Starc's swing puts South Africa in reverse
The last time Australia toured South Africa, Dale Steyn's old-ball skills decided the second Test in Port Elizabeth. Similarly slow and abrasive conditions can be expected this time around, but it is the visitors who now have the best exponents of reverse
's reverse-swing will likely remain the most potent bowling weapon on either side in Port Elizabeth, as Australia's coach Darren Lehmann declared he had no problem with seeing the ball reverse inside 20 overs on a slow and abrasive surface in Durban.
Debates over how reverse-swing had been obtained and whether it was done legally had dominated the previous Australian visit to South Africa in 2014. They resulted in a fine for David Warner for accusing
AB de Villiers of roughing up the ball with his wicketkeeping gloves to help Dale Steyn bend the ball dangerously in a Proteas win at St George's Park, the same venue for the second Test this time around.
Another slow, low and abrasive surface is expected to help rough the ball up ideally for the form of bowling that comes most naturally to the left-armer Starc, and Lehmann said the spectacle of the late-swerving ball was one of the most arresting sights in Test cricket. "I expect it to happen again," said Lehmann, who is also a member of the ICC's cricket committee. "Both sides are very good exponents of it. Very rarely do you see it happen day one, first session. That means the wicket is really dry.
"Obviously, there are techniques used by both sides to get the ball reverse and that's just the way the game goes. I have no problems with it, simple. You'd have to ask the umpires and ICC about that one [whether it is legal]. I don't mind the ball moving, I have no problems with it at all.
"It makes great viewing as a fan of the game. It's challenging for batters and challenging for bowlers to get it in the right position. If you don't get it in the right position, you saw [on day four] we didn't bowl very well for about two or three hours. It reversed and we couldn't get it right. They scored very heavily, so you've still got to bowl well."
Throughout his career, Starc has worked assiduously on maintaining an upright wrist position behind the ball to encourage conventional swing with the new ball - with devastating effect when he can get it right - but has always had the fallback of reversing the ball with a lower arm from around the wicket to right-hand batsmen.
in Durban he was able to use this part of his game to shattering effect, taking three wickets in eight balls to help round up South Africa's last five first-innings wickets for 12, and then three wickets in a single over in the second innings to hasten the end of the match after Aiden Markram's admirable resistance.
"Reverse swing is a more natural wrist position for me - it tends to be in the position I get when I get quite lazy and tired at the crease."
"The reversing ball is going all right this season," Starc told SuperSport. "There's may be a little bit of work to do with the new ball and getting a few more early wickets. As a bowling unit, we've done really well. It's nice to put a few in the right spot. To finish off a Test match like that over four and a bit days was pretty pleasing for the group.
"I've done it for a while now so I don't find it too difficult. [Reverse swing] is a more natural wrist position for me - it tends to be in the position I get when I get quite lazy and tired at the crease. When it is reversing, it's pretty natural for me. It's more trying to keep it [wrist] upright when the ball is new and trying to swing it naturally. It [cleaning up the tail] is a good habit to have, hopefully it continues for another three Test matches."
One advantage for the Australians at present is that while the South Africans lack Steyn's reverse-swing expertise - thus leaning heavily on Kagiso Rabada
to provide that option - the Australians have three pacemen all adept at reversing the ball, largely due to their background in New South Wales, where many of the pitches are slow and abrasive.
In addition to this, the allround option provided by Mitchell Marsh allows Steven Smith to bring a different bowler into play, and with some help from Tim Paine up to the stumps he was able to secure Markram's wicket on day four - arguably the most vital of the whole match.
"He's been fantastic, hasn't he? He played really well this game," Lehmann said of Marsh. "He got the key wicket yesterday for us, obviously a great catch from Paine. You need that, especially if you're going to play on wickets that reverse. We think Port Elizabeth will be very similar, it was last time. I think that will be the opposite the last two Test matches. You need that extra firepower in a four-Test series when it's so close together.
"He's worked really hard, we saw a lot in his ability early on to give him a really good run at it. He looks more relaxed at the crease as a batsman. He believes he belongs, that's the biggest thing in Test match cricket, to believe you belong at the level. and I thought he played beautifully. He looks more relaxed, ready to go and play a brand of cricket that's going to change games when you need to."
Given the back-to-back schedule of the first two Tests, Lehmann said it was significant that the Australian attack only had to deliver 152 overs against South Africa's 185. "They keep getting 20 wickets and that's what you need to do to win games of cricket. For us, to get 20 here, especially away from home, I was very pleased with the way they went about it," he said.
"They didn't bowl a heap of overs as such, half a day and a day. That's good leading into a short turnaround."
Mitchell Starc's lower-order wickets an be viewed on espn.in (Indian subcontinent only)
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig