Though India are the team with a host of bowling problems right now, Australia are not without their own concerns. Chief among these is Mitchell Starc, who has taken 1 for 147 from 18 overs across the opening two ODI games as India’s batsmen found him somewhat easier to line up than his pace counterparts Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.
With Cummins being rested from the remainder of the white-ball games, Starc’s role may need to change according to the tactical requirements of the captain Aaron Finch, but for the most part the captain is understanding of a fast bowler who has been among the world’s pre-eminent white ball merchants for most of the past decade.
This is not to say Starc has not fallen away in ODI performance in a similar manner to India’s new ball ace Jasprit Bumrah in the 18 months since last year’s World Cup, because he has. In that period since the Cup, Starc has claimed just 12 wickets at 54.25 in 11 matches, while costing 6.28 runs an over across series against India, South Africa, New Zealand and England.
“I think he’s going okay. He hasn’t been at his very best,” Finch said. “You have to understand his standards are a lot higher than what you expect from most other people because of how dominant he’s been over the last 8-9 years, especially in the white-ball formats. He’s been super.
“So he’d love to be swinging the ball and getting it right early on but the reality is when you’re defending big totals and you’re playing against good players, they are coming hard at you. So, there’ll be conversations had today about what we can do slightly different. Whether it’s a tactical thing or when we’re using him through the innings. We’ll chat about that today. Definitely no panic stations here from my point of view.”
The flipside, however, is Starc’s evolution as a Test bowler, for he has over a similar timeframe enjoyed the most fruitful passage of his long-form career. In eight Tests since late January 2019, he has scooped no fewer than 45 wickets at 18.42, with a stunning strike rate of 34.8 balls per wicket. Finch acknowledged that it was easier for Cummins and Hazlewood to flip from the IPL to white-ball duty at home, whereas Starc prepared by loading up on overs in the Sheffield Shield for New South Wales ahead of the Test schedule.
“I thought our energy and our intent was great. Moises and Smudge took a couple of absolute hangers that turned the game really. I think the way that we’ve bowled through the middle overs has been very impressive.”
“At times it can be easier to go from T20 back to 50-over cricket just because you’ve almost got the intent and then you can just rein it in a little bit more. He’s still bowled really well in the Shield in the first couple of rounds,” Finch said.
“From my point of view, and chatting to other guys about his technique, and little things that his fellow bowlers and the fast bowling cartel really monitor, they seem to think he’s going really well. So it’s just a matter of time. There’s nowhere to hide in ODI cricket when you’re playing on some really flat wickets with quality opposition.”
More broadly, Finch reckoned Australia’s bowling and fielding had improved from game one to game two, noting the outstanding catches from Steven Smith ad Moises Henriques. He was equally happy with Henriques’ canny overs of medium pace through the middle of the Indian innings on Sunday night.
“Our fielding definitely wasn’t up to scratch in the first game,” he said. “A few chances went down. In the second game, I thought it was a lot better. I thought our energy and our intent was great. Moises and Smudge took a couple of absolute hangers that turned the game really. Virat [Kohli] goes on and gets 130-140-150 or Shreyas [Iyer] goes on and gets a big score and they’re probably cantering towards 390. So, I think the way that we’ve bowled through the middle overs has been very impressive.
“India have come ultra-hard at the start. Obviously, like you’d expect chasing big totals and probably we’ve gone a little bit defensive really early. That happens. The way that [Adam] Zampa has bowled has been outstanding. Moises bowled seven overs the other night. They were brilliant overs to get out of him through that middle period. It was a really simple game plan and we adapted really well to that wicket as well. So, yeah all in all they’ve been pretty good performances.”
As for the replacement of David Warner, Finch said he would weigh up the balance between promoting a current member of the side like Marnus Labuschagne and also leaving the middle order untouched, after it functioned so well given a strong platform in each of the opening two games.
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“The middle order’s been functioning really well the last little while, I think it played well in England. And it’s done a really good job in this series as well,” Finch said. “There’s a kind of not wanting to do that. Marnus is a class player. If we go that way great. Alex Carey the role of him and Maxy [Glenn Maxwell] at six and seven has been really crucial and provides a bit more freedom for that middle order to go about their business and be ultra-aggressive as well. They’re a few reasons why I wouldn’t like to do it but there’s still a lot of good players there we can choose to do that role.”
Left-hand, right-hand combinations are among the issues that Finch is pondering. “It definitely has its advantages at times,” he said. “With Davey and I in particular we’re so different styles of play. Whether LH-RH it doesn’t make too much of a difference. As an example, if you use [Justin] Langer and [Matthew] Hayden as an opening combination.
“They played so differently that you had to bowl totally different to each of them anyway, regardless of whether they’re both left-handed, both right or left-right. I think that’s what complements opening partnerships than just that left-right combo.”