You remember those yorkers. Those fast, swerving yorkers that Mitchell Starc unleashed in Auckland and Melbourne against New Zealand, the defining deliveries of the 2015 World Cup. You remember them more than you have witnessed them lately, because Starc hasn’t been able to produce them too often for a while.
In the aftermath of Australia’s first home-Test day for the summer, Starc revealed how he and the bowling coach David Saker had been working to rediscover the sort of swing and pace he showcased three years ago. As a result, he has got the new ball swerving more consistently in Adelaide, both the nets and in the middle, than he has since that tournament.
Central to their work has been to get Starc bowling in a more upright manner over a braced front leg. Over the course of several years and even more wear and tear to foot and leg, Starc realised that he had been collapsing that leg in trying to avoid soreness and pain. Fully fit after a natural recovery from his most recent foot injury in South Africa earlier this year, Starc was swinging the ball sharply in training ahead of this Test, and on day one gained enough shape to make his angled ball across the right-hander too dangerous for M Vijay to ignore.
“We had a bit of a chat a few months ago now prior to the UAE tour about how my action had probably changed, bowling through niggles and periods where I’d been sore and that sort of stuff,” Starc said in Adelaide. “There were times when I’d collapse on my knee to try to get through when I was sore and that sort of thing.
“So going back to perhaps as I bowled in the World Cup in 2015, I got the ball swinging around and bowling with good pace. So it is something I’ve tried to find a way to get back to. There weren’t any big differences or big changes I had to make, but little things I’ve been doing in the last few weeks seem to have found a bit more swing I think.”
For all the work he had done, Starc acknowledged that gaining swing can also be something of a mystery in terms of its consistency. He is now hopeful, however, that the sort of curve witnessed in Adelaide can be sustained through the remainder of the summer.
“I’ve been sort of tweaking a few things and trying a few different things with David Saker, looking at perhaps how I bowled in 2015 throughout that World Cup and trying to perhaps get over my front leg a bit more. Little things have worked and hopefully the swing that I’ve got the last couple of weeks hangs around for the summer,” he said. “There’s little things I’ve tried over the last little while that have worked for little periods. This one seems to be working for a bit longer, I had it going nicely in the nets the other day and it’s worked again today.
“Just little changes and little cues I used to have that I probably went away from or unknowingly went away from. But it’s nice to see the ball moving around and I think we’ve all been preparing brilliantly for this Test series with a little period off after the [previous] Shield game. Between the batters and bowlers our preparation’s been fantastic, so it’s one good day out of a long series, so hopefully personally I can keep swinging the ball around and being that bit more consistent than I have been in the past.”
Assessing the day as a whole, Starc reasoned that the Austrlaians had been very close to their best for the first four hours of play, before flagging somewhat after tea on what was an oppressively hot day. “I think we’ve planned and prepared really well for this week and had a lot of vision to look at, and how India have played in the past,” he said. “They did go quite hard but we bowled exceptionally well for the first four hours, especially when the ball got soft and stopped moving around, the scoreboard never got away from us.
“I thought we bowled really well for four hours, probably pretty well for another hour and probably got it a bit wrong at the end there. [Cheteshwar] Pujara batted a lot of time, he’s someone who likes to absorb pressure and bat a long time, and credit to him he scored a fantastic hundred today. I think if you asked us at the start of the day if we’d take losing the toss and [India] being 9 for 250 at stumps I think we’d bite your arm off.”
As for the stunning one-handed catch claimed by Usman Khawaja to claim Virat Kohli in Pat Cummins’ first over of the day, Starc noted how much the Queensland captain had worked on his fitness and agility in 2018. “Usman Khawaja 3.0 isn’t it?” Starc quipped. “No he’s on fire, he’s made a huge effort over the last nine months and it’s showing in his batting and now it’s showing in his fielding. A great catch and probably one he’ll keep bringing up now as well, so a great effort from him.”
Four-day Tests loom in Australia’s future
A November 2020 home fixture against Afghanistan looms as a likely rehearsal for four-day Test matches in Australia, as the Cricket Australia chief executive Kevin Roberts declared the governing body and other nations needed to be more open to the concept beyond the end of the first two editions of the World Test Championship from 2019 to 2023.
Television ratings for the first Test against India in Adelaide, the inaugural home Test under the new dual broadcast deal with Fox Sports and Seven, spiked noticeably on the Sunday, a day that would likely become the consistent final day of matches should four-day Tests become more prevalent. The two networks gained a combined audience of 1.261 million during the third session, comfortably the largest of the match.
Roberts, who replaced James Sutherland as CA chief executive in October, said that the combination of audience sizes, easing of scheduling squeezes, and Test cricket’s own history of variable playing hours made the four-day question a serious one for all administrators, particularly for Tests played outside the championship locked into five-day matches.
“Outside the Test Championship that’s the opportunity,” Roberts told SEN Radio. “The Test Championship is five-day Test cricket out to 2021, so that doesn’t change, but outside of that there are other possibilities to consider and beyond that, beyond 2021 what it might look like. There’s a bit to be said for it isn’t there, and it’s certainly something I think we need to be open-minded to down the track.
“The average duration of a Test match is just a shade over four days and certainly without jumping to conclusions that that is the right solution, it is one possibility we’ve got to be open to. There’s been timeless Tests over the years, we know there were even three-day Tests, so Test cricket has not been five days in duration forever, and I think the concept of four days going forward is something we need to be open to without jumping to conclusions.”
Australia entered into discussions with Ireland about playing an inaugural Test ahead of next year’s Ashes series before being outmanoeuvred by the ECB, which scheduled a Test against Ireland at Lord’s by way of England’s own preparation for the same series. The Afghanistan Test, scheduled for November 2020 in the lead-up to the next home series against India, would provide an ideal chance to try the shorter match, probably played over around 100 overs per day.
A crowd of 20,641 turned up to Perth Stadium for the first day of the second Test against India, comfortably less than half the venue’s cavernous 60,000 capacity. While claiming that the crowd was greater than the capacity of the venerable WACA Ground across the Swan River – larger attendances were recorded for each of the first three days of last year’s Ashes Test – Roberts was unable to answer why the premium space behind the bowler’s arm at the Justin Langer Stand end of the stadium had been shut. This has meant that only members have been able to watch play from that vantage point.
“Good question and I don’t have an answer to that one right now,” Roberts said. “I’m not familiar with the specific details as to how level 5 operates and can you operate sections at a time. I don’t know the answer to that but it’s a good question as you look at it from the box here, a brilliant view down the wicket from where we’re sitting. They’re the sorts of things that we always need to consider, how many people can we get behind the bowler’s arm. So it’s a good question and unfortunately I don’t have a good answer for you.
“The facts are we had about 3,000-4,000 spare seats in the shade that were available for people who required them. In the event that those were used and we needed more we had plans to immediately open level five as well. We judged that based on need and there were enough seats in the shade based on need and in the event we ran out of those, then level five was being opened up, so there was a lot of talk about it. But in terms of the facts of that one, there were more seats available in the shade.
“I wouldn’t suggest that was an economic decision, it was a practical decision yesterday in terms of the most practical way to operate the stadium. In the event there was need then there was absolutely no opposition from a CA perspective to opening up level 5. There’s always a balance and we’re conscious that things will never be perfect for absolutely every individual at a stadium, but certainly we seek to optimise them as much as we can.”
‘Once a couple of guys got in, it was tough work’ – Tim Southee
Sri Lanka may have recovered well after they had been gasping at 9 for 3 early in the day, but New Zealand’s own batsmen might not be disappointed at how this Basin Reserve pitch is playing. Those were the thoughts of Tim Southee, who claimed figures of 5 for 67 and was the architect of Sri Lanka’s early wobble, taking three wickets in his first two overs.
Once batsmen got in though, it was possible for them to succeed. Dimuth Karunaratne and Angelo Mathews, for example, put on a 133-run partnership for the fourth wicket. Niroshan Dickwella made 73 not out off 91 balls towards the end of the day, which Sri Lanka ended on 275 for 9.
“Once Mathews and Karunaratne got in they played nicely after losing three early,” Southee said. “What our batsmen will take out of it is that when you get in it can look reasonably easy. Dickwella’s come out and played aggressively, and he’s played a gem of an innings so far for them. It was a frustrating one for us. But we can turn up tomorrow and try and get that last wicket as quick as possible, and hopefully our batsmen can get stuck in.”
This was Southee’s first ever five-wicket haul at the Basin Reserve, and the eighth in his career overall. Sri Lanka happen to be among his favourite opponents. He now has 38 wickets against them at an average of 17.92.
“It’s nice to get some wickets – the key here at the Basin especially on day one is to try and pitch it up,” he said. “It did swing for the majority of the day, but sometimes it doesn’t do as much as people think it’s going to do and we saw that. Once a couple of guys got in, it was tough work.”
Though Southee’s first three wickets were a result of seam and swing – he nailed left-hander Danushka Gunathilaka in front of the stumps with a straightening delivery, had Dhananjaya de Silva nicking off, and then had Kusal Mendis caught at short midwicket – his wickets later in the day came from bouncers. Southee had Dinesh Chandimal holing out to deep square leg before dismissing Angelo Mathews with a chest-high delivery that the batsman top-edged to the wicketkeeper.
Typically, it had been Neil Wagner who first attempted the short-ball attack, but when Southee followed suit it was he who gleaned the greater rewards.
“It was nipping around and swinging early on, but there was a bit of a dull period and we knew we needed to try something different. I don’t think I could bowl short balls for 10 overs at a time like Waggy does. He’s phenomenal at it. Some would say mad. But at the time we needed something different and it did kind of work today.”
Live report: Australia v India, 2nd Test, 2nd day
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