Daniel Brettig in Canberra
“I just shuffle up and go whang” is the immortal description that Jeff Thomson once ascribed to his terrifyingly fast bowling.
In the midst of a summer in which his ability and place in the Australian side has been questioned with increasing levels of insistence, Mitchell Starc ultimately fell back upon a similarly simple approach.
So many voices, pieces of advice and technical thoughts had clouded Starc’s mind over the course of a season in which he lost his usual knack for wickets. In the wake of the India Test series, he withdrew from much of the coaching he had been receiving to concentrate simply on feeling good at the crease and bowling as fast as he can.
A speed gun ticking often above 150kph in Brisbane and Canberra did not initially reap better results, but over the course of the first innings at Manuka Oval, Starc was gradually able to assert the kind of threat that has made him a near enough to automatic pick when fit for Australia over much of the past five years. In the aftermath of a day where Australia pushed to within 10 wickets of a 2-0 series win over Sri Lanka, he said that the New South Wales bowling coach Andre Adams had offered some of the simplest and best advice.
“I’ve been working on it a fair bit the last bit,” Starc said. “Before the Sri Lanka series, I had a really nice session with Andre Adams who is at NSW. And talking to a few people quite close to me who I have worked with over recent years. And putting the rest of the coaching and the other 450 coaches I’ve had over the past three weeks to the side. And going back to know what I know best. I am my own best coach and I know what’s best for me.
“The one for me this week was just to run in and bowl fast. Wickets are a wonderful thing. They help everything as well. I found a bit of swing there today as well. The last few weeks haven’t gone to plan. If you stick to it long enough it pays off. It’s fantastic to have the backing of everyone in the change room. That’s the main thing. It doesn’t matter what is said outside as long as the boys in the room have got your back.”
Plenty of high-profile critics have questioned Starc, not least the former spin bowler and Fox Sports/News Corp commentator Shane Warne. The noise of a summer in which Cricket Australia took on no fewer than two Australian television broadcasters and three radio stations has been such that Starc ultimately decided to retreat from social media and quoted opinions, in search of the sort of clarity of mind and body that has characterised his most dominant displays.
“Stop listening to everyone. That’s probably something I’ve really done the past four weeks. Not worry about it,” he said. “It probably wore me down a bit going into new years’, then I got off all the social media and haven’t read a paper in four or five weeks. That’s been the best thing for me, made me feel quite refreshed. As long as I know I have the backing of my team-mates and I’m working hard, it will turn eventually.
“I’ve got a second innings to bowl and that’s as far forward as I’m thinking. And then a few days off after that. That’s too far down the path for me to worry about at the minute. We’ve got 10 wickets to take that’s the most important thing. There are plenty of people in the backroom and staff for planning and selection. I’ve got a job to do over the next few days and can worry about it later.”
Australia’s Mitchell Starc collected two wickets in quick succession to hurt Sri Lanka
Adams’ influence is intriguing, given the role of David Saker as Australia’s bowling coach. Starc certainly appeared to have appreciated a fresher voice in his ear. “I’ve done a bit of work throughout the year with Andre at and it was great to talk to him about getting that feeling back,” Starc said. “Rather than having to do anything technically, it’s about playing enough cricket to know what works and doesn’t work and going back to things that set me straight.
“It was more that feeling of the ball coming out of the hand nicely and getting that timing and rhythm back. The rhythm has felt quite good throughout the summer. Perhaps little things haven’t been quite there that resulted in not-so-good stuff. It’s been great to chat to him and even Mitch Johnson and other guys I’ve worked with quite closely over the years to get that mindset back.
“Not so much the technical thing but finding something to contribute to the team and play a role. I came here this week wanting to bowl really fast to help create chances for the team. There’s still a lot of things to work on and get better at but just to get some of that feeling back and contribute to the wicket column and create chances on a flat wicket is great. It’s not about taking 10 wickets and losing; if you can play a role that’s the best part.”
Starc’s role for Australia isn’t particularly sophisticated, and neither was Thomson’s. To just “shuffle up and go whang” or “just run in and bowl fast” is easiest to do with a clear head and a united team. After his first five-wicket haul since Durban on the fateful South Africa tour last year, Starc appears to have found both.