The words that steeled Starc to push through pain

On the cusp of overtaking Dennis Lillee's 355 Test wickets, Mitchell Starc cites some early-career observations that have proven vital to his longevity

Starc reveals longevity secrets as he nears Lillee's 355 wickets

It was Tim Nielsen during his tenure as Australia men's team coach who made Mitchell Starc aware of the subtle, if significant, difference between "good pain and bad pain" which has helped carry the fast bowler to the cusp of some important milestones.

Starc is likely to overtake Dennis Lillee's 355 Test wickets – the all-time benchmark when Lillee retired in 1984 – if he claims a couple of scalps in the second Test against New Zealand that begins in Christchurch on Friday.

That will be Starc's 89th Test appearance and should fitness and form hold true, the 34-year-old is also on track to become just the 16th Australia men's player (and second fast bowler behind Glenn McGrath) to reach 100 Test caps.

He and fellow quicks Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood are also likely to line-up for their ninth consecutive outing as Australia's Test pace attack, a streak that goes back to Manchester during last year's Ashes campaign which is remarkable given the wear and tear that comes with their vocation.

Mitchell Starc celebrates Test wicket No.354 last week in Wellington // Getty

Starc admitted today he rated the chances of getting through a full Australia Test summer unscathed as a long shot given the injury issues he was forced to manage during last year's ODI World Cup assignment in India that followed the Ashes.

But while revealing he was restricted to limited training involvement in that tournament which ultimately saw Australia lift the trophy with Starc playing 10 of their 11 matches, he also cited some observations that came early in his career that have proved vital to his longevity.

Not long after making his ODI debut in India during 2010, Starc was told his habit of making team medical staff aware of every niggling injury he encountered was filtering back to coaches at national and state level, and his cards were in danger of being marked accordingly.

"It would have been my first or second tour and I was still learning what all those pains were," Starc told reporters prior to Australia's main pre-Test training session at Hagley Oval today.

"Obviously the reports get around from physios to coaches, and I sort of got told to 'harden the f… up' a little bit.

"Timmy Nielsen (men's team coach from 2007-2011) probably made me aware of that early doors, there's plenty of times you need to be honest with the medical staff but other times you've got to know when to push through things.

"Whether he used those words or not, it was a long time ago.

"I was still learning how to bowl and what my body was telling me.

"I was still going through all those developing pains and what not, and my body adapted to things and it was like ‘your name's always down as this is sore, that's sore’ – there's good pain and bad pain.

"That probably pushed me a long way to working that out a bit quicker, and not having to say when everything was sore."

Starc celebrates a wicket in his first overseas Test, against West Indies in 2012 // Getty

Starc concedes his and fellow fast bowlers' ongoing fitness has been helped by the reality none of the six Tests to date over the Australia summer, including the first match of the current Qantas Tour of NZ at Wellington last week, have made it to a fifth day.

But he noted there was also a lot of preparatory and rehabilitation work undertaken behind the scenes with the tight-knit bowling group and team fitness and medical staff to ensure Australia are able to field their most potent Test attack of all time match after match.

Starc claimed the most challenging period over the past year came during the World Cup when he battled unspecified injuries.

However, the experience he has gleaned from more than 12 years at international level with more than 250 matches across all three formats enabled him to find a way through the pain to play an integral part in their Cup triumph.

What makes the Big Three tick? Starc explains special bond

"There was a few things going on, but I've played long enough to know how to deal with those things," Starc said today.

"I wouldn't have trained much during the World Cup because of certain things, but that was all part of managing what was going on and I think it would have been the same for Pat and Josh, and Nathan (Lyon) obviously coming back from his calf injury.

"In terms of the bowlers, we've all had to manage things, the same for a lot of bowlers around the world.

"I think that comes down to experience and knowing how to deal with certain things, and finding a way through them to still make an impact for the team, or perform and carry out your role."

Starc's role when the second Test gets underway on Friday will be to strike early with the new ball on a Hagley Oval pitch that sported a thick mat of green grass today.

It's the skill for which the left-armer has become renowned, and which stands out most clearly when his record is compared to the other 18 fast bowlers to have captured 350 wickets or more in Tests.

Starc's strike rate of a wicket every eight overs (48.62 deliveries bowled) is surpassed by only South Africa's Dale Steyn (42.38), Pakistan's Waqar Younis (43.49) and West Indies' Malcolm Marshall (46.76) which places him among the true elites in that already exclusive cohorts.

And his average of 27.62 is superior to that of contemporaries Stuart Broad (England, 27.68) and Tim Southee (New Zealand, 29.49) as well as being marginally above another Ashes rival James Anderson (26.51) to account for recency bias.

But while the prospect of 100 Test appearances – which might come during the 2025-26 home summer against England if Starc maintains his ability to stay on the park – and overtaking Lillee's fabled record are worthy aspirations, the swing bowler retains a more immediate ambition.

Every wicket: Starc stars in another splendid summer

"It's something to reflect on if I get that far," Starc said when asked about the likelihood of overhauling Lillee.

"I've never really been about those numbers – it's cool, it's humbling, it means I'm old and I've played a little bit of cricket.

"But we love the Test wins so that's front of mind first and foremost.

"If I get that far it will be something to reflect on at the end of the week."

Qantas Tour of New Zealand

Watch all the action from the NZvAUS Tour live and exclusive on Foxtel and Kayo Sports. Click Here to subscribe

February 29 – March 4: Australia won the first Test by 172 runs

March 8-12: Second Test, Christchurch, 9am AEDT

Australia Test squad: Pat Cummins (c), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, Matthew Renshaw, Steve Smith (vc), Mitchell Starc

New Zealand Test squad: Tim Southee (c), Tom Blundell (wk), Matt Henry, Scott Kuggeleijn, Tom Latham, Daryl Mitchell, Glenn Phillips, Rachin Ravindra, Mitchell Santner, Ben Sears, Kane Williamson, Will Young.