Last Updated: 06/09/19 7:28pm
Mitchell Starc leaked runs on his return to the Australia team
Maybe that’s why Australia have not picked Mitchell Starc so far.
There were raised eyebrows when the quick, the joint leading wicket-taker in the 2015 World Cup and leading wicket-taker outright in the 2019 version earlier this summer, was omitted from the first three Ashes Tests.
But as Jason Roy has shown with the bat up top for England, white-ball success is no guarantee of dominant red-ball form, something Starc found while bowling on a chastening day for him personally at Old Trafford.
Starc, electric at the World Cup with 27 wickets – six more than nearest challenger Lockie Ferguson – was expensive in Test whites, as Rory Burns and Joe Root batted England back into their must-not-lose fourth Test, before the irrepressible Josh Hazlewood swung it Australia’s way again.
Rory Burns hit Starc for four to complete his fourth Test fifty
Root (71) and Burns (81) had to dig in and be watchful against Hazlewood and the No 1-ranked bowler on the planet, Pat Cummins, but were offered ample freebies by the third member of the tourists’ pace attack, whom had replaced the rested James Pattinson.
Starc’s 11 overs in this innings have so far haemorrhaged 41 runs. His second spell on Friday was particularly leaky – 28 runs spilled in just five overs – and he was not seen after tea, perhaps due to his earlier figures but also due to Hazlewood’s excellence.
In Starc’s comeback over, two loose back-of-a-length balls were steered through the off side for boundaries by Burns, the second sealing the England opener’s fourth Test fifty.
In Starc’s next, he bowled too straight, gifting Root a four and three-run hauls each to the England captain and Burns.
England’s hundred sealed and mirth around Old Trafford as speculation turned to whether Burns or Starc would complete their individual century first. Neither, as it turned out, with Starc soon banished to fielding duty and then Burns removed by Hazlewood.
Starc’s 11 overs so far have gone for 41 runs
Australia know the risk with Starc. He is a wicket-taker in Test cricket but can also be a pressure-breaker for the batting team.
His career economy rate before this Test was 3.39, significantly higher than team-mates Hazlewood (2.78) and Cummins (2.80).
During his Manchester troubles, CricViz revealed that his average since Sandpaper-gate is higher than all but two of the players to have taken as many wickets as him in that time. Only compatriot Nathan Lyon and Sri Lanka spinner Dilruwan Perera have fared worse.
Yet, his expensiveness may matter little if Hazlewood continues his supreme form. Having been left out of Australia’s World Cup squad to prepare him for the Ashes – and then bizarrely left out at Edgbaston – the lofty quick has picked up 16 wickets at 16.50 in the series.
Josh Hazlewood dismissed Burns, Joe Root, and Jason Roy late on day three
Hazlewood’s only reward during a probing second session was the wicket of nightwatchman Craig Overton, who was out to a fine delivery that angled in, straightened and clipped the edge of the bat.
But he then gorged when it looked as if Burns and Root were on course for centuries, with the former caught at slip and then the latter’s average Old Trafford dipping below 100 when he was trapped lbw with a nip-backer.
Another ball that jagged in then undid Roy, breaching his defences and knocking over England’s opener-turned-No-4’s middle stump as England closed the day 297 runs in arrears and with five wickets in hand.
There is still batting to come for Root’s men – and you’d be foolish to write off Ben Stokes considering the summer he has had but Australia have a stranglehold on the game and the Ashes, firstly through Smith’s batting and now Hazlewood’s bowling.
And if the tail becomes a problem, that may be where Starc could atone and come into his own.
Captain Tim Paine mentioned the seamer’s “mop” moniker in the build-up to this game, which comes from his ability to clean up the final few opposition batsmen.
If Australia had the ‘mop’ at Headingley the Ashes might already be theirs but as they have Hazlewood at Old Trafford they might just be anyway.
Watch day four of the fourth Ashes Test live on Sky Sports The Ashes (channel 404) from 10am on Saturday. You can also follow over-by-over commentary and in-play clips on our rolling blog on skysports.com and the Sky Sports app.