Mitchell Starc bends his way to justify price tag | Crickit
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Mitchell Starc bends his way to justify price tag

May 27, 2024 02:30 PM IST

At the biggest stage of all, Mitchell Starc produced a peach to get rid of Abhishek Sharma and set up KKR's third IPL title.

That delivery to Abhishek Sharma, in a nutshell, is exactly why Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) shelled out 24.75 crore for Mitchell Starc. Never mind what transpired in the league phase of IPL’s 17th season, Starc is seemingly hardwired to produce special things in big moments. Usually in the very first over. Recall Starc cleaning up New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum and crushing Kiwi hearts in the opening over of the 2015 ODI World Cup final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground?

Chennai: Kolkata Knight Riders's Mitchell Starc celebrates after taking the wicket of Sunrisers Hyderabad batter Abhishek Sharma during the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024 final.(PTI)
Chennai: Kolkata Knight Riders's Mitchell Starc celebrates after taking the wicket of Sunrisers Hyderabad batter Abhishek Sharma during the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024 final.(PTI)

So, five deliveries into the IPL final in Chennai on Sunday, the Australian left-arm pacer unleashed a peach from over the wicket to the left-handed Sunrisers Hyderabad opener that pitched on leg stump and swung away late to hit the top of off. Abhishek, hopelessly squared up, could do nothing but quietly begin walking back to the dugout. Starc went on to take another wicket for figures of 3-0-14-2 as Sunrisers were bowled out for 113 in 18.3 overs. KKR chased the target in 10.3 overs to claim their third IPL title.

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Just five days ago in Qualifier 1, against the same opponents, Starc had set the tone by dismissing compatriot Travis Head for 0 in the opening over of the game. The manner of dismissal was identical – full, swinging away from the left-hand batter and hitting timber. Starc finished with 3/34 in four overs as Sunrisers were skittled for 159 and KKR made their way to the final.

This was a Sunrisers team that had amassed totals of 287/3 and 277/3 earlier this season. And yet twice against KKR at the business end, they failed to bat their full quota of overs. Starc’s role was decisive, illustrated in the 34-year-old finishing the tournament with consecutive Player-of-the-Match awards.

Also Read | Mitchell Starc hints at retirement from a format after clinching IPL title: ‘Hope to be back in purple and gold again’

It’s been some turnaround for Starc having copped severe punishment from the batters in the first half of the season. He would argue that most bowlers were being meted out similar treatment, but Starc’s hefty price tag inevitably meant he had to be ready for a sterner gaze. Beyond plain criticism of his performances early on, there were also jokes and wisecracks, in good and bad taste, on the amount Starc was getting paid for each delivery.

“Nights like tonight or the last game are why I have been picked to come here,” Starc told reporters after the final on Sunday. “Glad to contribute. There have been jokes throughout. It's been friendly banter about price tags and what not. It doesn't bother me too much. I've had plenty of critics throughout my career. The pressure of being an overseas player and the price tag, you expect that coming to the best domestic league in the world. It is my job as an overseas player to perform and set an example for the younger players. I've thoroughly enjoyed my season here.”

Auction dynamics aside, part of the reason that the many zeroes in Starc’s pay cheque seemed excessive was because he hadn’t played in the IPL since turning out for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in 2015. He had also played only two T20Is for Australia since the 2022 T20 World Cup at home. As Starc reflected on Sunday, his struggles early on in this IPL may have had to do with the lack of T20 game time of late. Even his overall return of 17 wickets in 14 matches at an economy of 10.61 may seem underwhelming, but as the cliché goes, he delivered when it mattered most.

“I have played a lot of cricket. So, I know how to manage myself,” Starc said. “I haven't played a lot of T20 cricket in the last few years, so for me it was about trying to find that rhythm of the T20 format and trying to stay ahead of batters. It's been a high-scoring season for everyone, a lot of bowlers have gone for runs. So it's about staying pretty level.

"I've worked with (KKR bowling coach) Bharat (Arun) at RCB years ago as well. It was nice to reconnect with him this year. Our chat wasn't so much technical, it was a bit more tactical. Some suggestions or trying different things...certainly for batters who I hadn't seen or knew much about, I was going to him, Shreyas and Gautam Gambhir (KKR mentor). I am on the more experienced side. I am glad to have had an impact in the second half of the season and certainly when it mattered most.”

While Starc spent his late 20s and early 30s staying away from the IPL and focusing on his commitments with the Australian team, he is now more open to featuring prominently in the world’s most high-profile T20 league. In the process, he suggested that his 50-over career – he has played 121 ODIs and won two World Cups -- may have to give way.

“In the last nine years, I’ve prioritised Australian cricket,” he said.

“Giving my body a break and spending time away from cricket with my wife as well has been where my head has been for the last nine years. Moving forward, I'm certainly closer to the end of my career than the start. So, one format may drop off. There's a long time before the next ODI World Cup. And whether that format continues for me or not...it may open doors for more franchise cricket. I've thoroughly enjoyed this season. This leads into a T20 World Cup. That's the other benefit of being here against some amazing players. It's a great lead-up to a World Cup. Next year, I look forward to being back. Hopefully, it's in purple and gold once again.”

That will be music to the ears of the KKR players and supporters.

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