Mitchell Starc ready to bring terminal end to England’s Ashes hopes

Australia's Mitchell Starc: In his playing days for Yorkshire.
Australia's Mitchell Starc: In his playing days for Yorkshire.
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WHEN Mitchell Starc signed for Yorkshire in 2012, his team-mates nicknamed him ‘Terminal’ due to the fact that he had to undertake 14 flights in 12 days owing to visa problems.

Starc was deported over paperwork irregularities and had to attend the British High Commission in Canberra before matters were sorted.

Mitchell Johnson: destroyed England as Australia claimed a whitewash.

Mitchell Johnson: destroyed England as Australia claimed a whitewash.

Since then, Starc has gone from ‘Terminal’ to ‘Terminator’, becoming a fulcrum of Australia’s fast bowling attack.

As one of Australia’s ‘Four Pacemen of the Apocalypse’, if you pardon the expression, along with Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson, Starc has gone from strength to strength since his spell at Yorkshire five years ago, when he took 36 wickets in 16 games in all cricket and helped the club to their first T20 Finals Day.

Although Pattinson has been ruled out of the forthcoming Ashes series with a recurrence of a back injury, which could open the door for fellow pace bowler Nathan Coulter-Nile, Starc is fit and firing after his own injury difficulties.

The left-armer was hampered by a foot injury that cut short his Test tour of India in March and also hindered his Champions Trophy campaign in England last summer.

Australia’s fast bowlers, in fact, have been somewhat injury-prone lately, with Hazlewood having suffered a side strain.

Keeping them on the park will be key to the host’s chances of regaining the urn, which England hold after their 3-2 win here in 2015, with Nathan Lyon providing the spin bowling support to Starc et al.

At 27, Starc should now be approaching the peak of his powers and this could be a defining series for him, in much the same way that the 2013-14 series Down Under was a defining one for fellow left-arm pace bowler Mitchell Johnson.

Johnson terrorised England during that rubber with 37 wickets as the tourists suffered a 5-0 whitewash, and with England’s batting line-up possessing a fragile and inexperienced look, Starc is eyeing similar reward.

“It’s a very different Australian team and an opportunity for a few of the younger, less experienced guys to get on top of them much like Mitch did to some of their batsmen through that series (in 2013-14),” said Starc.

“They’ve got (Joe) Root and (Alastair) Cook up the top who’ve played a lot of cricket and are probably their main guys with the bat, but the guys in the top-order around them are pretty inexperienced and, hopefully, we can exploit that in our conditions and, if we can, really get on top of them in the first Test like Mitch did a few years ago.”

Johnson, now retired, captured nine wickets in the first Test in Brisbane four years ago, with support from fellow pace bowlers Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle, immediately establishing a vice-like grip that he never let go. The Australian attack may have changed since then but retains a highly formidable look.

“This time we’ve got a few guys who can bowl pretty quick and bowl some good bouncers, and we’ve got a really solid attack who complement each other,” added Starc.

“If it’s not me, you’ve got Pat Cummins bowling fast bouncers, you’ve got Josh Hazlewood bowling consistent line and length, so much like that attack did when Jono took all those wickets, and I think we complement each other really well.

“Throw in Jackson Bird, and Coulter-Nile’s bowling well as well, so there’s five really good guys there (pace bowlers).

“We’ve got a really good attack; it’s not down to one person. Everyone will like to bowl like Jono and terrorise the Poms like he did and take 1,000 (sic) wickets in a series, but the great thing for us is we’ve got a young group that complement each other really nicely.”

Starc brings his own special attributes to the party, which include express pace and control of swing.

Even in his Yorkshire days, when he had only just started his Test career, he had a particularly venomous late-swinging yorker, which has proven deadly in all formats of the game.

Although a highly-skilled practitioner, Starc has more than a touch of the Johnson menace about him, with the ability to make life extremely uncomfortable with the bounce that he can extract from a 6ft 4in frame.

The ‘Terminal’ heads into the series with 148 wickets from 36 Tests at 28.35 – perhaps only one great Ashes campaign away from joining the likes of Johnson in the pace bowling pantheon.

Starc’s chances of causing havoc, along with fellow spearheads Hazlewood and Cummins, will surely rest to some extent on whether Ben Stokes is available for England.

As things stand, the vice-captain will not be travelling with the rest of the squad pending a police investigation and also an England and Wales Cricket Board disciplinary inquiry into his involvement in a street brawl in Bristol last month.

Some say that England’s chances without Stokes are next-to-nothing, but Starc made clear: “I’m sure they can (challenge without him). They’ve got those experienced guys up the top, and although he probably makes their team a bit more balanced, he’s not the be-all and end-all of their team.

“There’s plenty of other guys we need to worry about, some experienced bowlers, some experienced batsmen up the top. They bat quite deep as well when you’ve got Moeen Ali coming in at No 8 and (Chris) Woakes at No 9.”

Starc added: “I think everyone in world cricket knows how good Ben is, and it’s yet to be seen whether he’s on the plane. If he does come then we know how good a player he is and how he makes that team much more balanced.

“So, if he’s not there, it’s a big blow for them, good for us, but it’s not for us to worry about. I’m sure they’ll deal with it whichever way they choose.”

While cricket awaits the outcome of the Stokes situation with baited breath, Australia have one or two selection dilemmas of their own.

The No 6 spot is up for grabs, with another former Yorkshire player, Glenn Maxwell, having been dropped during the recent one-day series in India.

Maxwell averages only 26 from seven Test appearances but, on his day, he is one of the world’s most dangerous players.

Matthew Wade’s position as wicketkeeper is also far from safe and he will be anxious for runs for Tasmania in the next few weeks.

Starc, however, has made himself one of the staples of the Australian side and is likely to play a major part.

The ‘Terminal’ has come on leaps and bounds since his Yorkshire days and will be hoping to bring a terminal end to England’s Ashes hopes when the series starts in Brisbane on November 23.