Under the SKanner: Mitchell Starc
Following the retirement of Mitchell Johnson, many thought that the absence of the left-arm pacer would seriously weaken the Australian bowling attack. However, that was not the case as Mitchell Starc stepped into his shoes immediately, and although he has not been as explosive as Johnson (who can?), he is without a doubt the spearhead of the Australian bowling attack.
Starc debuted for Australia back in 2011 but he could not quite nail down a place in the side then. However, gradually, the New South Wales speedster brought a lot more control to his bowling and became the team's top bowler by the year 2015. Here is a look at some of the biggest strengths of one of the world's premier fast bowlers and also some of his weaknesses.
After suffering a battering at the hands of Mitchell Johnson in the 2013-14 Ashes, ex-England star Kevin Pietersen said something that gave a glimpse into the effect express-fast bowling has on batsmen. Following the completion of that series, Pietersen tweeted “When you facing someone as quick as Mitchell (Johnson), your instinct occasionally makes you do things you shouldn't.. PACE causes indecision!”
This particular trait is a part of Starc's arsenal as well and he can be frighteningly quick. In fact, back in 2015, Starc became the latest bowler to breach the 160 km/hour barrier when he sent down a 160.4 km/hour delivery at Perth in a Test match against New Zealand.
Starc's ability to bowl at pace has never been in question and that attribute allows him to trouble batsmen even if there is not much assistance from the pitch. However, what separates him from many other fast bowlers is that he can bowl at a rapid pace right from the first delivery of his spell and can sustain it throughout the duration of the match.
The fast in-swinging yorkers are also extremely hard to get away, especially in limited overs cricket and perhaps was an indication why he ended up as the best bowler of the 2015 World Cup. The relentlessness is something that can often get stifling for batsmen.
Swing and movement
Now raw pace cannot be the only thing that can be weaponised against international batsmen and a pacer needs something extra to make him a top fast bowler. Starc can swing the ball into the right-handers and that too at express speed, which makes him a very difficult bowler to negotiate. On the other hand, he is a very intelligent customer as well and there is hardly any chance of taking a breather when he is bowling.
One thing often does not get enough attention is Starc's absolute mastery over the yorker and more often than not, those are quick in-swinging deliveries aimed at the base of the stumps. It is very difficult to get him away in the death overs and some of the best batsmen in the world have failed to take those yorkers on with any degree of success. Last but certainly not the least, his pace and whippy action also make him the best candidate for extracting any reverse swing in the latter stages.
Issues with length
A bowler of the calibre of Mitchell Starc does not have many weaknesses that could be particularly debilitating, otherwise, he would not have been Australia's spearhead across the three formats of the game. Although it is true that he can pick up the length to bowl to a batsman quickly enough, it often proves to be his downfall when he fails to vary his length against those who might have responded appropriately. The problem is particularly pronounced when Starc bowls a fuller length and if the batsmen find the going comfortable, it seems he finds it difficult to alter his length.
Good length bowling has not proven to be one of his strengths over the years and although the fuller length deliveries have proven to be successful, it has also made Starc a slightly one-dimensional bowler at times. That being said, it is not a big problem for a bowler of his class and it is perhaps only a matter of time before he sorts it out.
The problem is particularly pronounced in Test cricket and hence his show, in this very department, would be keenly watched by many in the upcoming Ashes series.