Australia Tour of England - Men's
Starc goes to new lengths to push case for Ashes recall
Left-armer combines frugal opening spell with trademark destruction late in the innings as he aims to make a Test return at Old Trafford
Andrew Ramsey at the County Ground, Derby
30 August 2019, 07:51 AM AEST
Having spent the first four weeks and three Tests of the current Ashes series as an onlooker, Mitchell Starc burst into the spotlight to stake his claim for the final two matches at Old Trafford and The Oval.
And while it was a signature spell - in which he knocked over three non-plussed Derbyshire batters in the space of an over – that grabbed attention, there were subtleties in his earlier bowling that were equally notable.
And which might well strengthen his case for a return to the starting XI for the fourth Test that begins in Manchester on September 4.
In particular, it was the 29-year-old's nagging length with the new ball, where he sacrificed a measure of pace for greater control, that caught the eye of Test skipper Tim Paine who is watching Australia's three-day tour game at Derby from the sidelines.
The rationale for having the left-arm strike bowler surplus to requirements during the first three Tests is that, especially on fast-scoring English grounds, he can be expensive if he pitches full and the new ball does not swing.
In his eight Test appearances in the UK to date, Starc has captured 29 wickets at an average of 31.24 and with an economy rate of 57.56 runs per 100 balls bowled (3.45 runs per over).
Even though that is not markedly dissimilar to his record in Tests on Australia soil (121 wickets 27.96 while conceding 3.39 runs per over), it contrasts with his more parsimonious peers in an Ashes campaign throughout which Australia has preached bowling control above aggression.
That strategy is reflected by the returns of the four seamers employed by Australia against England thus far – Pat Cummins (17 wickets while conceding 2.71 runs per over), Josh Hazlewood (12 wickets, 2.74 per over), Peter Siddle (five wickets, 2.72) and James Pattinson (five wickets, 2.57).
It was therefore the thrift that Starc showed when he opened the bowling against Derbyshire on Thursday that furthered his case for a recall, as much as the stumps that he scattered when operating near full throttle later in the afternoon.
"We know what Starcy can do in terms of blowing teams away," Paine said at day's end, after Derbyshire were dismissed for 172 and Starc finished with 3-46 from 16 overs (2.87 runs per over).
"We also know, coming to England in the past, that hasn’t worked.
"So he’s been working really hard on getting his length right more so than anything."
Although Starc's new-ball partner Michael Neser was the focus in the first half-hour on Thursday with two wickets from consecutive balls to have the home team reeling at 2-0, Starc's initial numbers were no less impressive.
So immaculate was his length and line, he did not concede a run from the bat until his 23rd delivery of the innings.
And not only did he keep a rein on the scoring rate, he completed a lengthy seven-over opening spell during which he beat the bat of Derbyshire opener Luis Reece and eventual top-scorer Leus du Plooy numerous times.
The one nick that he did induce, off left-hander Reece, fell just short of Steve Smith at second slip, such was the lack of pace and bounce in the Derby pitch.
When he did take a breather, to be replaced by the ever-economical Siddle, Starc's figures showed 0-15 from seven overs (2.14 runs per over) with four maidens.
"I think his opening spell today was really good," Paine said.
"I thought he bowled in very good areas.
"He bowled with good pace on a wicket that was very slow.
"So I thought the signs that he showed with the new-ball were really good and then, like we saw again at the end (of the innings), he can go back to what his strengths are - attack the stumps and use his short-balls.
"He's a handful for the tail as well."
When Starc returned for his second spell after lunch, with the ball bearing 36 overs of wear and tear and du Plooy well set on 58 not out, he started tidily before deciding to let go a few short deliveries aimed at the body of 23-year-old keeper Harvey Hosein.
However, so slowly did the ball fly from the Derby surface that – after Hosein had been removed by Mitchell Marsh – Starc reverted to the full, fast and furious template that has served him so effectively across 51 Tests and 85 one-day internationals.
He might claim a measure of fortune in dismissing Derbyshire's number seven Matt Critchley, who managed to tickle a delivery that was hurtling past his pads.
But the other two emphatic strikes in his memorable 13th over – in which he claimed 3-0 – as youngster Alfie Gleadhall and veteran Tony Palladino both had their stumps spread-eagled, were the result of unerring skill.
It's the sort of weapon that Paine might, in quiet moments, wish he could have called on as England's No.11 Jack Leach stayed with Ben Stokes for more than an hour to decide the result of the third Test at Headingley last weekend.
But Paine also refuted suggestions that Starc's pre-eminent value in Test cricket is his ability to blast through otherwise obdurate tailenders.
"I don't think so … he's been working on his length and I think he showed some really good control in his first spell," Paine said.
"He bowled a long spell too (seven overs followed by eight overs), which he doesn't do a lot when he plays for Australia.
"I thought he controlled pretty well, and the areas he has been trying to improve - so he can be important for us in English conditions - I thought he showed today he's going really well with that.
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia beat England by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval