Sydney: What makes a fast bowler from Australia tick in an Ashes series? Jeff Thomson said he and Dennis Lillee had a simple plan which was “to kill the (expletive).” For Mitchell Johnson, speaking just after the 2013-14 Ashes whitewash, it was attack on all fronts. “You are constantly trying to drive into the English with bat, ball and mouths.” Now, it is Mitchell Starc’s job to emulate the past Ashes feats of Thommo and Johnson. If fast bowlers can take wickets through reputation alone then he has been doing a fine job of building up an aura before the first Test in Brisbane, which starts on November 23. A return of eight for 73 against South Australia in his first red-ball cricket for seven months was followed by two hat-tricks in a Sheffield Shield game for New South Wales last week - the first time that has happened in Australian cricket. Just to ram home the message that their big fast bowler is in prime form, footage was released on Sunday of Starc dumping Australia captain Steve Smith on his backside in the nets. So what can we expect from Starc at the Gabba? Should James Anderson be preparing for a broken arm, as Michael Clarke warned him the last time England’s Test team were on Australian soil? “At times everyone gets a bit of white-line fever, I know I do at times, but the majority of the time for me it is about presence and trying to bowl fast,” says Starc, whose wife, Alyssa Healy, is engaged in her own Ashes campaign in the women’s series. “I don’t have too many witty things to say so I tend to keep my mouth shut most of the time but there are occasions when the white-line fever takes over as it does for lots of players. I just like to get into the battle between bat and ball and make it a good spectacle with the fans.” It is a great life as an England cricketer and playing on an Ashes tour is a privilege only a select few experience, but over the coming weeks being an English lower-order batsman facing Starc will be one of the most unenviable, and dangerous, jobs in sport. Starc loves bowling to the tail. He averages 5.75 to batsmen nine to 11, coming round the wicket to right-handers and angling those yorkers in at the stumps. If England collapse to 124 for seven as they did in their warm-up match in Adelaide and Starc will not give them an escape route in the same way a young Cricket Australia XI did. It is no surprise, for pace is what blows away tailenders and the statistics show that Starc has been consistently the quickest bowler in the world. Of those who have played since 2006, Starc has the fastest average delivery of 88.20 mph (or as the Aussies would say 142 clicks). He is quicker than Johnson and more consistent. The pair are good friends and Starc will be leaning on his old teammate for advice. “He is someone we can always chat to about little things and about how he went about that series and the things he picked up along the way that might be useful for the England guys who are back for this series,” he said. “That is one of the things our team does well. We respect the guys of the past and we talk to them about cricket and anything really and have them around the change rooms any chance we get during the summer. I’ll definitely be catching up with Mitch over in Perth, but I’ll be chatting to him in the meantime as well.” Starc, for one, is not obsessing over how many clicks he is generating - or not yet, anyway. When asked whether he might break the 100 mph barrier, he gives a laugh. “Who knows! I haven’t had the speed gun on so we won’t know until the first Test. It has just been nice to have some rhythm back and get some game time under my belt. Ryan Harris, the former Australian opening bowler, said this week he believed Starc was leading an attack better than the one which helped whitewash England 5-0 four years ago, while Johnson has done his bit, too, saying his namesake has a “fast, deadly bouncer” and “can bowl an amazing yorker”. A bowling attack is a team within a team and what made Johnson so dangerous four years ago was the fact Harris and Peter Siddle were so consistent. It allowed Michael Clarke, the captain, to bowl Johnson in short, deadly bursts. This promises to be a bowlers’ series too. Both sides have batting issues but largely settled bowling attacks - barring injury to the last link. England will rely heavily on the experience of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes. For the home side Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins are the new Johnson, Harris and Siddle. “When you’ve got guys who are accurate at one end then it allows guys like myself and Pat to come in and bowl as quick as we can from the other and see how the batsmen react. “It is a great partnership and I think our attack complements each other well. “Pat can bowl great short stuff, he’s really quick and can swing the ball both ways, I’ve got the left-arm angle and Josh is so accurate, I think we all work really well together. We’re all very different bowlers but the biggest similarity there between us is the attacks from last time and the attack now. “It was three guys who complemented each other and even though Mitch got the big rewards [in 2013-14] on any given day, it could have been Rhino or Sids getting the wickets as well.
“That is the exciting thing for us; that we are great mates off the field and we complement each other on the field and that is what we’re looking forward to most. We want the same level of success that those guys did in 2013/14.” Four years ago, the personal battle was between Johnson and Alastair Cook. Johnson sensed he had Cook’s number early on. “He looked like he was not there and really heavy and droopy,” he said. This time, the key contest will be Starc versus Joe Root. The pair have a shared history following Starc’s brief spell with Yorkshire in 2012. “I think we’ve always enjoyed that contest with each other since I played at Yorkshire. He’s got the better of me on a few occasions and I’ve got his wicket a few times so it is a great contest and we both enjoy the challenge of trying to get the upper hand. There are usually a few smiles and a bit of banter about it.” The stakes are higher this time. The “banter” will have a different edge, especially if Starc follows Thommo’s advice.
- The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2017