When Ashton Turner turned up at the pre-match press conference on Monday, the first question was about his last India tour, highlighted by the Mohali ODI in which he clobbered an unbeaten 84 of 43 balls to help Australia chase down 359. Each time he recalled that innings on Monday, he let out a beaming smile.
What would Mitchell Starc say if he was asked the same question? He’d have to jog back his memory a long way, because his last ODI in India was nearly 10 years ago. Starc made his ODI debut in India, back in October 2010, and hasn’t played an ODI in the country ever since. There are non-Asian players who are eager to tour India, who jump on the opportunities provided by the IPL, to not only play T20 cricket, but also familiarise themselves with the conditions so that it helps them for international tours later on. Not Starc.
His last IPL game in India was in 2015 and his last international game in the country was during the Test series nearly three years ago. It’s still likely that because of his skills, Starc’s name will be among the first few on the team sheet on Tuesday. Don’t be surprised if he strikes with the new ball and then nails his yorkers in the death overs.
Starc’s adroitness is such that he knows what to do in what kind of conditions. He has played 11 ODIs in Asia – the last one in Sri Lanka in 2016 – and taken 26 wickets at a phenomenal average of 18.65, which is bettered only by Rashid Khan and Mustafizur Rahman (minimum 100 overs bowled).
In those five ODIs in Sri Lanka in 2016, Starc tormented the top order with his swing and pace – almost always striking with the new ball – and then occasionally deceived batsmen with his cutters and pace variations. One thing he did through the series was to target the stumps on the flat and slow pitches, taking nine of his 12 wickets either bowled or lbw. And he was the top wicket-taker that series. Which means that despite the long gap, Virat Kohli doesn’t expect Starc to be any easier to face.
“I don’t think that not having played in India [recently] will be much of a factor for him, because he’s played a lot over here,” Kohli said on Monday. “And anyone who has pace, once they find their length they can adjust anywhere, so pace is always going to be an advantage. But having said that we have played against these guys a lot.”
What India haven’t faced from Starc recently is his tweaked action, the result of working last year with New South Wales coach Andre Adams. Starc made the change after being picked for only one Ashes Test last year, and upon return to domestic cricket, returned career-best Sheffield Shield figures of 10 for 60 against Tasmania.
Starc now bends his left elbow a little more in his delivery load up, so as to hold the ball closer to his left ear, and he looks more linear just before the release when his right arm is outstretched. Kohli has been keeping track of all this.
“He is a very skillful bowler and he’s changed his action now, which we saw him getting more swing. Looks like he’s back to swinging the ball like he used to, and that makes him a lethal bowler all over again,” Kohli said. “When he gets to swing the ball like that – the new ball – and then he can tear it away with the old ball because he has got his action in a linear fashion. It is pretty interesting to come up against a guy like that.”
Against India, he will have two duels: first against the robust top order and then against the lesser experienced middle and lower order. It could very well be that the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Kohli see Starc’s first spell off to target the other bowlers. Kohli has been dogged enough to not lose his wicket to Starc even once in ODIs, while scoring 56 off 57 balls, while Dhawan has been the poorest of the lot – Starc has dismissed him thrice in 41 balls, conceding 23 runs
The tougher test will be for India’s middle and lower order. If the more experienced batsmen are gone, and the pressure is to score quickly against Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, players like Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, Kedar Jadhav and Ravindra Jadeja will need to come up with answers to a variety of questions.
“It is going to be a great challenge for them (middle order) to face someone like Mitchell,” Kohli said. “I’ve played with him, played against him a lot. We’ll definitely have to be up for it and especially the younger guys in the middle order. They should look for a challenge. Cummins, Starc, Hazlewood, if he plays, (Kane) Richardson is an experienced bowler. Adam Zampa. All these guys will challenge us throughout the game.”
No matter who comes out on top in these contests, it’s likely Starc will look like he has been a regular on India tours.
With inputs from Gaurav Sundararaman