A hard decision to make, yes, but a harder decision to take, according Starc who, four years on, admits he didn’t channel his frustration as well as he could have.
“I have learned not to change my game to suit fitting into a team,” Starc told this masthead. “If I’m not in the XI because of conditions or match-ups, that’s fine, but I possess a skill set which complements our entire attack. I’m never going to bowl like Scott [Boland] or Josh [Hazlewood] or Pat [Cummins]. Why do I need to change the way I go about things to be like them to fit into an XI?
“If that means I’m not in the XI at certain stages, that’s fine, but I think that’s one thing I learned from the past. Because I wasn’t in the XI, I tried to be this economical bowler who can hit a spot. That’s not me. That’s Josh. I lost airspeed, I lost all these other things I’d been so strong at in the past.
“Sure I went for a few more runs, but my strike rate was lower or I bowled a different length.”
After taking match figures of 7-85 in a tour match against Derbyshire, Starc finally got his opportunity in the fourth Test at Manchester with the series delicately poised at 1-1 and Ben Stokes’ outrageous match-winning innings at Headingley fresh in everyone’s mind.
Starc snared 3-80 and 1-46 – to go with an unbeaten 54 with the bat in the first innings – to help Australia to a resounding 185-run win for an unassailable 2-1 series lead, ensuring the Ashes were retained.
Beers were cracked and celebrations ran deep into the night. You couldn’t wipe the grin off Starc’s face.
Three days later, he was axed from the XI. Peter Siddle and Mitch Marsh were back in. Tim Paine won the toss and elected to bowl before England took a 69-run first innings advantage. The home side pulled off 135-run victory to square the series and leave the Australians with a bitter taste in their mouth.
“I’ve come to not get so frustrated about it,” Starc says. “Sure, you want to play every game, but I do more harm trying to fit in than when I stick to my strengths. To retain the Ashes was quite special … but you want to win it.”
As another home summer rolled around, Starc hauled himself off the canvas. He silenced his critics by snaring 89 wickets at 24.86 from his next 23 Tests.
Ahead of the opening Test of the 2021-22 home Ashes series, there was fierce debate as to whether Starc deserved his spot in the Australian team.
He proceeded to deliver the moment of the summer by bowling Rory Burns around his legs for a golden duck with the first ball of the series. Starc’s explosive celebration said it all.
“He’s really gone to another level,” says Cummins of Starc. “The way he’s bowled the last couple of years, especially here in Australia in kind of seaming conditions, has been extraordinary.
“He’s got a few more tricks. He can swing the ball but also he can also wobble the ball across the right-handers. Like always, he provides that point of difference to us right-armers, and he’s a little bit quicker as well.
“He’s got a big role to play in these Ashes and just seeing him [in Brisbane], he’s looking in pretty good nick.”
It is likely that Cummins, Starc and Hazlewood won’t feature in every Test in the upcoming Ashes. Could it be their last away Ashes series together? Starc, at 33, is the elder statesman of the Aussie pace cartel but isn’t feeling sentimental just yet. He knows Australia may never send a more experienced group of bowlers to England again.
With Nathan Lyon a chance of taking his 500th Test wicket in coming weeks (482 wickets at 31.23), the numbers of Starc (306 wickets at 27.52), Hazlewood (222 at 25.83) and Cummins (217 at 21.50) make for remarkable reading. They’ll soak it up while they can.
“We’re all getting to the back-end. Pat is the youngest. We’ve all been together for a number of years,” Starc says.
“For the team and where we’ve come the last two or three years, to win an Ashes in England is the carrot. It’s how we’re going to deem success.
“If it’s the last time us older guys are together, it’d be a hell of a way to finish playing cricket in England.”
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