Tests still 'top of the tree' despite Starc's IPL windfall

Fast bowler is copping plenty of grief for record auction price, but it has not changed his outlook

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Mitchell Starc's Indian Premier League windfall has not shifted his continued prioritisation of the longest format as the left-armer reiterated his desire to play every Test this summer.

After the Kolkata Knight Riders this week made him the most expensive buy in IPL history with their winning bid of A$4.41m at this week’s auction, Starc admits he has copped plenty of grief from teammates leading into the NRMA Insurance Boxing Day Test against Pakistan.

"Certainly the bowlers have been giving Greeny (Cameron Green) stick for last 12 months for his IPL stuff and he didn't miss a chance yesterday or today," the 33-year-old said after he broke Green's record as the most expensive Australian purchase in the IPL.

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"It's probably fair – he's copped it for 12 months."

Australia look set to field an unchanged team on an MCG pitch expected to sport six-to-seven millimetres of grass, slightly less than what has been left on the two tracks prepared for the two Marsh Sheffield Shield games hosted there this season.

But the hosts' settled line-up and convincing start to the Test summer after their 360-run win over Pakistan in Perth has meant there has been more intrigue over the amounts forked out by IPL teams for the Aussies’ leading players.

Starc has not played in the last eight editions of cricket's most lucrative tournament, instead using the April-May 'leave' period to recharge his body and spend time with his equally busy wife Alyssa Healy, the Australian women's team captain.

But this year's IPL fits conveniently into a quiet year (at least compared to the men's team's 2023 campaign that saw them play in four marquee series and tournaments) that has a T20 World Cup as its main draw. 

"Red ball is still top of the tree for me," Starc told reporters at the MCG two days out from its iconic annual fixture.

"I think my body will let me know (when it’s time to give up) Test cricket before I want to, but it's an opportune year next year.

"It's a lot quieter, there's no Test match between the ones in New Zealand in March and the summer next year.

"There's a T20 World cup, it's a nice lead-in to that with the IPL and the quality of cricket that tournament presents. In terms of the schedule, it's much more quiet."

The IPL has become the highest standard annual T20 competition and Australia's team management see it as a golden opportunity for players to tune up for the USA and Caribbean-hosted ICC event in June.

Pat Cummins ($3.67m) million and Travis Head ($1.21m) both got picked up by Sunrisers Hyderabad, joining fellow Test players David Warner, Mitch Marsh (both retained by Delhi Capitals) and Green (traded to Royal Challengers Bangalore) who will play in next year’s IPL.

Steve Smith and Josh Hazlewood both missed out in the auction but could receive call-ups closer to the tournament getting underway.

Those who do play in the IPL will have a significant advantage over their all-format counterparts who don't given the focus on Test and 50-over cricket over the past 12 months.

Since Australia's failed T20 title defence on home soil at the beginning of last summer, they have played just two T20I series. The Test players missed the bulk of those matches, including Starc, who was dropped for the final match of their T20 World Cup campaign.

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He denied that was a motivating factor, insisting: "I haven't thought about it.

"It's just an opportune time to put my name back in (for the IPL) and see if I was wanted," he said.

"Instead of bowling in the nets in in April and May – generally there's no better there (to face him) – so it's much more interesting to go and play in an IPL and test myself against the best."

Including last week's victory in Perth, Australia's run of seven Tests this summer (three against Pakistan, two against West Indies and two in New Zealand) are spread out over the space of three months.

It’s relative a breeze next to the six Tests in seven-and-a-half weeks Australia played on their UK tour earlier this year, or even the 11 ODIs in six weeks they played in their World Cup triumph.

"It's certainly not a schedule like what we had in the Ashes," said Starc.

"We've had a few days in between Perth and coming to Melbourne, and then there's a few days between the Pakistan series and the West Indies series. Then we've got white-ball series (against the Windies and NZ) in between our Test summer and going to New Zealand.

"We look back at the Ashes schedule and having six Test matches in eight weeks was something that doesn't happen all the time. The way we're all feeling at the minute, we're ready to go."

Starc's confidence of playing all the upcoming Tests is also built on how his body has overcome a series of physical concerns that remained with him through the ODI World Cup.

The paceman had groin and shoulder concerns after the jam-packed UK tour and revealed he had to tweak his training methods in India to manage his way through the tournament. He missed just a solitary match and saved arguably his best two performances for the semi-final and final.

"I don't think you're ever 100 per cent, but I think I probably finished the World Cup better than I started in terms of how my body felt," he said.

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"There were a few issues there after the Ashes that we didn't know about until we got home. We managed them pretty well through a World Cup and they looked after themselves enough to be able to perform at back end.

"A couple of weeks in between then and getting stuck into the summer, and I feel in a really good place."

NRMA Insurance Test series v Pakistan

First Test: Australia won by 360 runs

Second Test: December 26-30, MCG (10.30am AEDT)

Third Test: January 3-7, SCG (10.30am AEDT)

Australia squad: Pat Cummins (c), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Steve Smith, Mitch Starc, David Warner

Pakistan squad: Shan Masood (c), Aamir Jamal, Abdullah Shafique, Abrar Ahmed, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Noman Ali, Saim Ayub, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Saud Shakeel and Shaheen Shah Afridi