Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
Freed of ankle pain that halved the range of movement in his right foot, Mitchell Starc has forecast a concerted Australian attack on Sri Lanka's captain Angelo Mathews in the three-Test series that begins in Pallekele on Tuesday.
Following a dispiriting tour of England and amid a surfeit of injuries to Sri Lanka's fast bowlers, Mathews is set to face a searching examination from the No. 1-ranked Australians, who have often worked diligently to undermine the authority of opposition captains by limiting their capacity to perform on the field.
Starc contrasted Mathews with his opposite number Steven Smith, who has so far performed very strongly as both batsman and captain for Australia. "Look, he's under pressure," Starc said of Mathews in Pallekele. "He'd be under pressure after the English tour and as a captain he'll have to go through that pressure and perform as well. And that's something that Steve, for us, does really well.
"He's been fantastic as a captain and led from the front as well, so no doubt we'll put a lot of pressure on Angelo to perform. He's got to lead as captain, so he'll be a big wicket for us along with [Dinesh] Chandimal. For their bowlers [Rangana] Herath is the most experienced one and one that we'll try and counter."
Starc came unscathed through the ODI tri-series in West Indies in June, and found some useful new-ball rhythm during Australia's tour match at the P Sara Oval in Colombo. He has now gotten used to the unusual experience of bowling without discomfort in his right foot, and will seek to swerve the ball through a Sri Lankan side that has lost Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan since he last bowled to them, in Australia three years ago.
"It's fantastic to not see the three big names line up against us," Starc said. "There were a few tough moments with those experienced batsmen in the line-up. They're obviously a bit light on [experience] in the Sri Lankan team. They are coming off a series defeat in England, but back in their home conditions, they know it best and they'll be up for a fight.
"We'll have to be at our best, but at the same time if we can make some early inroads and expose that inexperience, we've definitely got a fantastic bowling line-up to go through them."
From the more pleasant vantage point of seven months after surgery, Starc outlined exactly how much his right foot had degenerated before he surrendered to the surgeon's knife. A two-centimeter fragment of bone broke off his ankle during last year's first Ashes Test in Cardiff, before painkilling injections were required to deaden all feeling in the foot.
He carried on despite this obvious handicap until the third Test of the home series against New Zealand in November 2015, where he broke another bone in the same foot and hobbled his way to the winning runs under lights at Adelaide Oval when clearly restricted. That second injury provided the catalyst for surgery, including the removal of the aforementioned fragment, the shaving of three bone spurs from the ankle and the excision of plenty of scar tissue besides.
From days when he could only flex his ankle around two centimeters, Starc now has a range of movement closer to 14 centimeters. "It feels great. Having that bone taken out has done wonders for it," Starc said. "That movement has been fantastic, ever since I started bowling again from surgery. There has definitely been no pain there through the West Indies and through the start of this tour. It's a fantastic result and I'm looking forward to hopefully playing a much longer period of cricket now."
No longer needing to worry about physical restrictions, Starc has concentrated on tactical and technical work with the interim bowling coach Allan Donald, with whom he also shares an IPL team.
"We've been working with Craig [McDermott] for a number of years now. To bring in AD (Donald) with a different set of eyes and a different set of theories is nice. It's always nice to freshen things up and see what he's got to offer on that topic as well," Starc said. "We all reverse the ball pretty well, it's just about doing it more often and getting it in those right areas here in Sri Lanka where it's going to be needed a lot more.
"I will always bowl my own way and if it means bowling a few yorkers here and there which I probably normally do anyway. It's about getting that consistency a lot of us have had through the last 12 to 18 months. Josh Hazlewood has been fantastic at that, hitting a spot and really wearing batsmen down and taking a lot of wickets. I'm trying to get back to that consistency I had before I broke down.
"I was feeling really, really good through that Perth Test (against New Zealand) and even through the few overs I had in Adelaide was where I really wanted to be in Test cricket. I'm always going to attack and try to take those early wickets, and I'm happy to go for a couple of runs if I can take early wickets."
Given the likelihood of two spinners being chosen, Starc can look forward to short, sharp spells at the other end, where Smith will seek to keep his pace up at its most destructive pitch. If he can do that, the pain he once felt in his ankle will instead be felt by the batsmen.
Sri Lanka XI vs Australians
Australia tour of Sri Lanka
West Indies Tri-Nation Series
Sri Lanka tour of England and Ireland