If the 2013/14 Ashes series were to happen all over again, what would England do differently? Forget all the post-series nonsense about ‘executing our plans better’; Mitchell Johnson destroyed England. That fact was quickly accepted but would they really go back and wait until after the second Test when the Ashes were already as good as lost to seriously sit down and think about how they were going to counter attack? No, they would spend every spare minute that they could afford facing 93 mph rockets on the bowling machine if they knew what was about to befall them.
England have to adopt a different mindset if they are to combat Mitchell Starc this winter. They have to recognise the threat that is in front of them and face it head-on. It almost goes against team pride; reacting to a problem that hasn’t even happened yet. But England cannot wait until they are one or two defeats down to counter the Mitchell Starc threat.
England Must be Ready For Mitchell Starc
England’s shell-shocked state could almost be forgiven back in 2013-14. The re-emergence of Johnson was a shock to most as his place in the Australian side was only really won due to injuries to others. However, that excuse cannot be applied to Starc. The 27-year-old has been the leader of Australia’s attack for a solid amount of time now and only injuries have kept him from consistently being the leading fast bowler in world cricket.
The left-arm quick has already enjoyed a blistering start to the Australian summer in Shield cricket having taken 17 wickets in just two matches, including first-class best figures of 8-73, and two hat-tricks in the same match.
It is one thing to recognise a problem, but providing a solution is a different matter altogether – the most obvious solution being practice. The England batsmen haven’t faced anything like Starc in their tour matches – Nathan Coulter-Nile being the closest to an out-and-out quick. That leaves bowling machines and the arms of Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace – a lot to ask of two men in their fifties.
Odd Preparation Can Pay Off
Joe Root wrote in his book ‘Bringing Home the Ashes’ about how he and Jos Buttler covered some indoor nets in buckets of water to replicate the quick nature of the Australian bowlers in 2015:
‘’Johnson may have been bowling at the speed of light but that was what we had tried to replicate on the Astro pitch in Sheffield. We were up to speed and now could rely on playing on our instincts.’’ Again, this action was taken after the Lords demolition in the second Test.
Although Johnson and Starc are both 90mph+ left-armers, they are very different bowlers. Johnson relies so much on aggression meaning his natural length is shorter. His bowling arm is a lot rounder so the batsman doesn’t get a perfect sight of the ball coming down at him. Starc, however, is a lot more traditional. Everything about his bowling is rhythmic with an extremely upright arm, meaning the batsman will get a perfect sight of the ball.
Partnership with Hazlewood
Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood’s opening partnership could be very similar to that of Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris back in 2013/14. Starc could well be given license to bowl full pelt for five overs to try and burst through the English top order. Starc has labelled his fellow countryman a ‘genius’ when it comes to bowling line and length and a fifth bowling option could allow the hosts to employ this method further.
Starc’s biggest weapon is his inswinging yorker. The English coaching staff won’t want to risk too much practise of this due to the obvious danger of broken toes – it’s a lot easier to practise ducking under bouncers than it is hopping over yorkers.
England will at least have some experience of this style of bowling. Kagiso Rabada used his yorker, which was up at 90mph, excellently during the English summer. Starc’s yorker will surely pose the biggest threat to the tail-enders when the Kookaburra ball starts reversing – England’s last five wickets in 2013/14 averaged just 5.4 runs.
Even if England aren’t facing 90 mph toe-crushers in the nets they should be practising basic things like playing with a lower bat lift. Moeen Ali adopted this method when facing Varun Aaron back in 2014. Jonny Bairstow would surely struggle given how high his bat lift is and most likely wouldn’t try changing. Furthermore, the flip side of this is dealing with the bouncer when it comes.
Starc may opt not to bowl the yorker or the bouncer to James Vince, instead exposing his love-hate relationship with the cover drive. Joe Root, too, has shown weakness when a left-armer has bowled full and wide outside the off stump.
Under the Radar
A problematic build up which has included many injuries alongside the Ben Stokes fiasco must have Mitchell Starc feeling like he is slipping by unnoticed. Joe Root has already stated that his side won’t be focusing on just one Australian player. But England have to be street smart if they are to avoid another mauling like the one in 2013/14. They cannot place all their faith in the fact that the 27-year-old could snap at any given moment.