November 2021. Mitchell Starc, the Aussie gun bowler who once used to terrorise world cricket with his pace, swing, and sheer presence, was down and out.
He had endured a miserable home Test series against India (11 wickets in four games, average 40.72) and a poor T20 World Cup in the UAE (nine wickets, economy of 9.18), which invited heavy trolling on social media platforms.
From India’s tour to Australia leading into the start of the 2021-22 Ashes series in Australia, Starc averaged 40 runs per wicket with a pitiful strike-rate of 74 in the four Tests he played. In the same period, from 13 T20Is he averaged over 32 while conceding nine runs per over. It was, by all means, a forgettable year for the left-arm pacer, during which he also lost his father. Things looked distinctly off for Starc, whose fading red-ball form had prompted several critics to question his potency and legacy in Australian Test cricket.
So much so, that some doubted his spot in Australia’s starting XI for the first Ashes Test in December. Legends like the late Shane Wane and Mitchell Johnson wanted Jhye Richardson to feature in place of Starc in Brisbane, but the newly appointed skipper Pat Cummins decided to go with his tried and tested bowling partner.
The build-up was huge, so was the occasion. And boom, Starc was right on the money. With his first delivery bowled, he cleaned up England opener Rory Burns around the legs and his celebration said it all. Australia won that first Ashes Test by nine wickets, and then for the second match at Adelaide Oval Starc found himself leading the attack in the absence of Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. He starred with six wickets, backed that up with five at the MCG and ended Australia’s 4-0 Ashes campaign with 19 wickets at 25 apiece.
Starc’s comeback is a supreme display of resilience and every sportsperson on the globe can look up to him. Cummins, the leader of the pack, also deserves appreciation for sticking with Starc, who post the Ashes looked back at that despairing phase of his life and said. “I probably didn’t play the cricket I wanted to and, at certain stages, I probably didn’t want to play cricket at all.”
Fast forward to March of 2022. The state of affairs has changed. Australia are touring Pakistan for the first time in 24 years. After a boring and monotonous opener to the series in Rawalpindi, the two teams are locked in battle in Karachi. For the first two days the pitch played slowly and Australia batted the entire time – attracting criticism in the process – before Cummins declared at 556/9 on the third morning. Looking at the nature of the surface, few outside the Australian camp could have predicted what was to follow.
During the second session of day three, Cummins’ team claimed 6/62 as Pakistan were bowled out for 148. Leading the way was Starc with three wickets via the devastating use of reverse swing, his scalps including Azhar Ali and Fawad Alam in successive deliveries. In flat conditions and scorching heat, Starc displayed a masterclass of reverse swing and used the old, scuffed-up ball to perfection.
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) March 14, 2022
To Ali, he tailed the ball away after bowling around the stumps. The batsman nicked to Cameron Green at gully where a superb catch was taken. Next ball, Fawad was struck plumb in front by a delicious delivery that had jagged back in a long way to the batter. Fair to say, the next man in, Mohammad Rizwan, had his share of luck to survive the peach of a hat-trick delivery. On air, Rob Key and Waqar Younis gushed and termed the wicketless third ball from Starc as the delivery of the Test match. No hat-trick for Starc, but a terrific ball that shaved the edge of Rizwan’s bat.
Starc’s three wickets on day three in Karachi have reinvigorated cricket fans who are now keenly anticipating how he bowls when Australia declare and Pakistan begin their mammoth task of survival. If Starc puts in another crippling display in the land of reverse swing, it will truly mark a stupendous comeback and put doubts in the mind of batters all around the world.