AS Ashes warnings go, it was pretty ominous.
Remembered by Yorkshire followers for his spell at the club in 2012, Mitchell Starc did not just take one hat-trick in the same game this week, he got greedy and claimed two. Yes, two.
In the process, the rangy, pacy New South Welshman became just the eighth player to achieve that feat in first-class cricket history – and the first to perform that accolade in 39 years.
His performance for his home state against West Australia in this week’s Sheffield Shield encounter in Sydney also saw him make history in his own right – no bowler had previously done what he managed in a first-class match Down Under before.
It is called laying down a marker, with the first Test at the Gabba being just 12 days away.
Starc’s staggering achievement has fortified the belief of many Australians that he will carry on where Mitchell Johnson left off in 2013-14 and leave a trail of broken and befuddled English batsmen in his wake with minds fried on bone-hard, lightning-fast tracks – with the scorching Aussie sun affording no respite.
Speaking recently, Starc talked the talk in warning England to expect a repeat of the carnage meted out by Johnson in that Ashes whitewash of four winters ago during the forthcoming series.
A pre-series Antipodean boast or two is as much a part of the Welcome to Australia initiation for England’s cricketers as your first eight dollar schooner of beer and it would not be quite the same if Glenn McGrath did not give his customary ‘5-0’ verdict.
But walking the walk is what separates the men from the boys and Starc is clearly intent on following up his words with deeds if his head-turning exploits this week are anything to go by.
Briefly his team-mate at Headingley, Yorkshire coach Andrew Gale watched highlights of Starc’s performance this week and was quick to pay credit where it was due. But also with a caveat.
He is someone who does bowl two lengths and he will try and push you back with his pace and bowl short and try and push you back in the crease. And then he will go at the stumps. He probably gets more bowled dismissals than anyone in Test cricket.Andrew Gale on Mitchell Starc
As many on the circuit also know, it is not quite the whole story with Starc.
As it never was with Johnson, who could lurch from the sublime to the ridiculous at times, with his radar somewhat unpredictable and awry at times.
Gale told The Yorkshire Post: “There is no doubt that he (Starc) is a danger man because he is a wicket-taking bowler.
“But on the flip side of things, if he does not quite get it right, he can go around the park.
“He is someone who does bowl two lengths and he will try and push you back with his pace and bowl short and try and push you back in the crease.
“And then he will go at the stumps. He probably gets more bowled dismissals than anyone in Test cricket.
“You only have to look at the way he has been bowling in the Sheffield Shield this week and I saw a few highlights. He cleaned out the stumps a few times.
“That is a threat. Not as much for the top order, but definitely to the tail. He can clean a tail up. England have just got to try and get on top of him and remember that he can go around the park if he does not get it right.”
While Starc will very much be at the fulcrum of the Australian pace attack, England will be without one of their gun bowlers in Ben Stokes, with the absence of his runs input also seen by many as a blow that the tourists could have done without.
Gale remains sanguine, with the absence of Stokes on the batting front at least assuaged by the presence of a strong middle order featuring the likes of Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali.
Gale added: “The balance of the team is still good as they still have Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali, who have probably been batting one position lower than they should be anyway, given that Stokes has done so well at six.
“If Jonny moves up to six and Moeen Ali is at seven and Woaksesy (Chris Woakes) is at eight, he has still got a handful of first-class hundreds.
“They have still got enough batting in my eyes and the balance of the team is still good.”
Offering his take on the series, Gale added: “The key to winning is no doubt going to be the batting. Both teams are in a similar position and have a couple of bankers. England have (Alastair) Cook and (Joe) Root and Australia have (David) Warner and (Steve) Smith and it is whoever is around them who can chip in as well. If they can get 400, then both are well in the game as they have enough in their bowling to bowl teams out for less than 400.
“But if they are chasing the game and get bowled out for 200 or 250, then they are going to struggle. It may be stating the obvious, but that is what it will boil down to for both teams – whoever makes big first innings totals.”