There’s nothing like Scott Boland’s Ashes clinching 6-7 at test debut, but if it reminded you of anything, it could have been Mitchell Johnson’s Adelaide Oval massacre in 2013.
That day the fiery soul tore through England and at one point took three wickets in one over on the way to 7-40.
The numbers remain the best of an Australian at Ashes this century, and was this week voted by the public as the No. 1 moment in the nation’s cricket history.
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It’s easy to forget now, but Johnson was not always considered the all – conquering, leading destroyer of an Australian generation.
It took that series, especially that incantation, for him to overcome years of doubt about his place on the test team.
It’s something Mitchell Starc knows a bit about, as he’s not so much enjoying a breakout series, but more a confirmation of his unique potential and value to the Australian Test team.
It’s easy to miss in the stupor of Boland’s dreamlike enchantment at MCG, but Starc has his own Johnson moment.
The similarities between Johnson and Starc in the second half of their test careers are numerous.
Prior to the Adelaide Test, Johnson had only played in four matches in two years and was rejected by the Australian team, which lost 3-0 in the UK in mid-2013.
Just months later, he secured his legacy as one of Australia’s all-time great test sprints, drawing comparisons with Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee.
These are comparisons that Starc – with 269 test wickets at 27.15 – does not yet attract with any real confidence or consistency.
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Like Johnson, Starc’s golden summer 2021-22 followed a difficult two-year period involving a fluctuation abroad, where he was selected to play in only one Test of the 2019 Ashes.
His confidence was thought to be sinking and his threat waning, culminating in just 11 wickets at 40.72 in four Tests against India last summer.
Not even a month ago, Starc still felt the heat after producing figures of 0-60 in the T20 World Cup final, which set the record for the most expensive bowling of an Australian in the format on the international stage.
Suddenly, Starc is on its way to being named the Ashes player in the series after having a sensational return to form with 14 wickets at 19.64 in the first three tests.
He has not reached Johnson’s heights in 2013-14, but 2021-22 Ashes should not only end speculation about his position, but see him finally handed over the recognition he deserves.
Only five fast bowlers have ever taken more wickets for Australia than Starc, while only Glenn McGrath and Lillee have made it a better average.
Of those who have taken more than 100 test wickets for Australia, only Pat Cummins’ strike rate (46.4) is better than Starc’s 48.9.
Added to Starc’s CV on Tuesday was a third ash triumph to go along with the 50-over World Cup in 2015 and the T20 World Cup in November.
Despite his credentials, Starc has been the target of repeated calls for his test dismissal with some corners of the media becoming impatient after a quiet summer of 2020-21.
Solidly on the other side of the fence has been Australian fast bowling legend Brett Lee.
Lee has long been one of Starc’s most vocal supporters, who has been confused about how quickly criticism of Starc has risen in recent years.
When he spoke to foxsports.com.au on Wednesday, a day after Starc’s sharp second half set up for the spectacular England collapse to Boland, Lee called for the concern about his position to end once and for all.
“For his name to be consistently tossed around like, ‘he should be dropped’ or ‘he should not be on the team,’ I just think it’s ridiculous,” Lee said. “Absolutely absurd.”
“He is always the first to be thrown under the bus.
“You don’t take over 250 test wickets by cheating it. It’s hard work, dedication and sacrifice. He’s been around the team for a long time now, he’s an experienced player.
Lee added: “He has proven to everyone that he is good enough. So let the guy toast. Let him enjoy his career and do not throw his head on the chop.”
Starc took just one ball – the very first in the entire series – to send a reminder of why he is so highly valued by both Lee and the national voters.
It should be noted that voters have rarely given a hint that they were ready to drop Starc, who have played in each of Australia’s last 12 Tests, going back to September 2019.
Nevertheless, there was growing speculation that Western Australia 25-year-old Jhye Richardson was only being held back by Starc for a place in the first Test at Gabba.
Starc continued to steam in with the new stone and swung the ball around a collapsing Rory Burns’ leg with the first ball in the series.
The moment was Johnson-like in its jarring nature, and in how England has looked hopelessly inferior ever since.
Starc only took two more wickets for the test, but was sensational in Adelaide and Melbourne when he was put into a de facto leadership role in the absence of Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.
None of them were available for the day-night test in Adelaide, where Starc showed why he is underrated as a leader with his 4-37, which included a wicket in the innings’ third over, and the worrying Dawid Malan for 80.
In the second round, he accounted for England’s best player, Joe Root, and Ollie Pope to take 2-43 in the 275-race victory.
Adam Gilchrist noted at the time that unlike last summer, when Starc dealt with the personal death at his father’s death, the 31-year-old looked at peace.
“In the little interviews we’ve had with Mitch and seen him, he has not been so down on himself if a ball has not gone in the right area, or if they have scored a few runs in a few overs off. “him,” Gilchrist told foxsports.com.au at the time. “He has not fallen down and dropped his body language.
“He just seems a lot more calm and relaxed and enjoys everything. That may not be the case, but it’s an observation that I’ve noticed from my point of view. “
Starc returned to haunt Root in Melbourne initially when he recorded two more wickets – but his best work in the entire series has been his most recent.
Which brings us back to the Boland incantation; a less-than-believable four overs who defied our understanding of what was possible for a bowler on test debut, much less in an Ashes series.
From a purely cricket perspective, however, Starc’s incantation was undoubtedly just as important.
It was Starc who took the first two wickets in two balls late on day two of one of the most violent new balls seen at Ashes. According to CricViz ” ‘Expected Wickets” model, his new ball partnership with Cummins was the best on records dating back to 2006.
The only criticism of Starc’s hat-trick ball for Root was that it was too good and it cut too far from the seam for it to narrowly miss the outer edge.
On Tuesday, England put their hopes in Root and Ben Stokes to take the fight deeper and put Australia on a total hunt.
Starc shattered those hopes in an instant with an almost unplayable nip-back that broke Stokes’ defense and took his middle.
He ended the round with 3-29 when Boland stole the show.
Starc is basically a different bowler than Lee, but like the big 76 test, he has raw speed and possesses an X-factor that few have.
For Lee, it is the ability to take a wicket on any given ball that should make him unmistakable in the test arena.
“He was on the hook – which I did not agree with – and I personally know what Mitchell Starc can bring to the team with his raw pace, his swing, his ability to strike a round open,” Lee said.
“We all witnessed that with the first ball of the summer. So that’s why I was very vocal about him being one of the first to be selected in the page.
“He has the X-factor, he’s a match winner. He’s different than bowling your typical line and length. There are guys who usually do that, but he’s a pure wicket-taker, and that’s why I’m would choose him every single time. “
Now the only thing that can make Starc sit out in a test if he is rested, which he might be for the Sydney test with the work done.
Either way, Starc has well and truly proven that his doubters are mistaken in what will go down as the series that defines the final stages of his career, proving why he is a true Australia great.