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Mitchell Starc: The man who breathes fire with the ball

Here's a look back at Australia's spearhead pace bowler Mitchell Starc and his struggle, who makes a comeback after a long injury layoff.

Nearly five and half years ago, I sat down in the evening to watch a Big Bash League game after returning from my school. Sydney Sixers were taking on the Perth Scorchers at the SCG. Mitchell Starc had the ball in his hand. He takes his run up and throws the ball. The ball out-swings perfectly and knocks the stumps off.

A bewildered Shaun Marsh looks back in disbelief as the Sixers break into celebration. Next ball, he knocks the stumps off again. This time the other brother, Mitch Marsh, with a beautiful in-swinging delivery. I was struck with awe.

I had always been a fan of fast bowling, but there was something extraordinary about this bowler. He could swing both ways in consecutive deliveries, most importantly at pace without losing consistency. That was how I first noticed this amazing bowler.

He went on to become the 3rd highest wicket-taker in that tournament, although he had played 2 matches less than the highest wicket-taker.

Never got regular chances

In spite of being a rare talent, Mitch Starc was always fighting for his spot in the Australian team. He would be in the team for a match, and out for the next. He was always competing with the likes of Pattinson, Hazlewood, Siddle and Bird for a spot in the side, particularly tests.

When he made his debut against New Zealand in 2011, he took 2 wickets. James Pattinson took a five-for in the second innings, and Starc was dropped for the second test.

To prove his worth, he went to England and played a county season for Yorkshire (2012). He returned back to Australia, having gained a huge amount of experience to tally up with his talent.

With his deliveries swinging consistently both ways, he almost made himself impossible to ignore, at least in the shorter formats.

Consistent performer in limited overs

Soon after returning back from England, he was selected in the ODI squad for a series against Pakistan in UAE. His performance received praise from everyone, and that included a five-wicket haul in Sharjah.

This was the series that turned him into a regular Australian quick in the ODI line-up.

Later, West Indies toured Australia in the summer of 2012/13. He went on to become the highest wicket-taker in the ODI series, grabbing 11 wickets in just 3 matches. That did include an amazing bowling spell of 5/20 which stunned everybody.

What was even more interesting is that his nearest competitor Clint McKay took 9 wickets in 5 matches!

Return to tests

Starc took 11 wickets in 2013 Ashes

Mitch Starc returned to the test squad after being called up for Border-Gavaskar trophy in India (2013) following the homework gate incident. He had a mediocre performance, similar to the whole Australian line-up and they lost the series 4-0.

In a bid to make a comeback to the tests, he rolled back his name from the IPL auctions.

“The six weeks just to have a couple of weeks off, build myself back up in the gym, get some bowling under the belt and be raring to go if the chance comes to go to England”, he stated during a press conference.

His valiant decision was widely applauded by the critics and fans alike. His efforts paid off and he was selected in the Ashes squad for Australia.

Although Australia had a forgetful tour, he turned out to be their third highest wicket-taker (11 wickets) for Australia. One shouldn’t ignore the fact that he only played 3 tests, compared to Peter Siddle, who featured in all the 5 test matches.

His ability to swing the ball even in tough conditions earned him praise from different sections of the media. Australia’s spearhead Mitchell Johnson was not known to swing the ball and Starc’s addition to the squad filled that gap in the Australian lineup.

Also, he had a wonderful ability to pinpoint yorkers at will. A swinging ball perfectly pitching in the block-hole. And to add more, a pace in excess of 140kph. He was a nightmare for the batsmen.

Regular injury troubles

Despite his dedication for the game and unique talent, he has been consistently plagued by injuries throughout his career. He was dropped from the squad to face England in the 2013/14 Ashes due to a back injury.

It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Mitchell Johnson who was playing in the form of his life. He spearheaded Australian bowling attack and took 37 wickets in 5 matches, ensuring a 5-nil victory over England.

Two years later again, he was forced to sit for a period of more than 6 months following an ankle injury he sustained in the first ever D/N test. It was a heartbreaking moment. He missed some major tournaments including the World T20 and IPL, right when he was in the prime of his career.

2015 World Cup hero

An elated Mitchell Starc after dismissing Brendon McCullum in the final of the World Cup

Just before the World Cup, England and India played a tri-series in Australia as a warm-up for the grand tournament. Starc struck all ends up, and even claimed 6 wickets against India in the 2nd match. Those were his career best figures till then.

With the current form, he was a natural selection for Australia in the World Cup. And what a tournament it was! He breathed fire throughout, even when Australia lost a match.

The 25-year-old delivered his most destructive performance in Australia’s only loss against the Blackcaps when he ripped and pierced through their lineup to claim 6-28. It looked as if all was over but a face-saving 6 from Kane Williamson that got NZ over the line.

Starc took 2 wickets for just 20 runs in the final, including the wicket of New Zealand trump-card Brendon McCullum in the opening over itself, which proved to a game-changing moment in the final.

He had a magnificent run throughout and finished as the top wicket-taker in the World Cup with 22 wickets at an average of 10, alongside Trent Boult. Starc's devastating run also placed him on top of the ICC ODI bowling rankings.

Johnson’s retirement and injury

As Mitchell Johnson decided to retire from International arena, a wave of change was already starting to be felt in the Australian camp.

Australia's fast-bowling mentor Craig McDermott had already started feeling that Starc is ready to take over as the new spearhead of the Australian pace battery. Combined with Johnson's retirement, the maturing of young Mitch as a Test seamer left Australia at ease rather than not.

During the Trans-Tasman series against New Zealand (2015), he was at his best. He was highest wicket-taker in the tournament, clinching 13 wickets at an incredible average of 23.23. A shift of reign was evident. It was Starc, and not Johnson, who was Australia’s front line bowler now.

Starc delivered the fastest delivery ever bowled in a test match at 160.4 kph

On day 3 of the D/N Test against New Zealand, Starc delivered a rapid thunderbolt of 160.4 kph. This delivery was declared as the fastest ball ever bowled in a test match, a feat Johnson himself could never claim.

As all looked set for Starc, his nightmare came to haunt him again. He suffered a stress fracture in his right foot while bowling against NZ in Adelaide. The injury ruled him out of professional cricket for at least 6 months.

Return to the Australian squad and future

He returned to the national squad with high anticipations from the cricket fans in the tri-series against West Indies, and he proved his worth.

The left-arm quickie wasn’t at his sublime best, and that’s natural for any player who has not played for so long. But his late swing and express pace remained evident as he picked up a wicket in the 1st over itself.

As evident by his return, even after such a long layoff, Starc still hasn’t lost his mojo with the ball. He’s a magician who curves the ball according to his will and a dragon who breathes fire with the ball.

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