The secret behind Mitchell Starc's big-match temperament | Crickit
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The secret behind Mitchell Starc's big-match temperament

May 23, 2024 03:22 PM IST

Mitchell Starc was off-colour in the league stage but he rose to the occasion in the Qualifier 1 against Sunrisers Hyderabad to take KKR into the IPL final.

He was erratic. He was inconsistent. He was expensive. He wasn’t getting the breakthroughs with the new ball. There were questions raised over his price at the auctions. But that is what separates the good players from the truly great ones – they know when to crank it up, they understand the occasion. After a below-par season with the tag of the most expensive player in IPL auction history continuously around his neck, Mitchell Starc finally showcased his genius with the white-ball, producing a performance for the ages against the Sunrisers in Qualifier 1 in front of a 75,000-strong crowd in Ahmedabad.

Kolkata Knight Riders' Mitchell Starc celebrates(AFP)
Kolkata Knight Riders' Mitchell Starc celebrates(AFP)

A rare feat in the powerplay

Starc returned with three wickets in the powerplay, breaking the backbone of the SRH top-order, leaving them in a shock from which they could not fully recover. He was fired up for the occasion and struck with his second delivery – the ball angling in and then shaping away to rattle the stumps of the most destructive batter of the tournament. It was a massive moment in the match. No batter had scored more runs in the powerplay in IPL 2024 than Travis Head and he had done so at the rate of knots. He had annihilated opposition attacks into submission in the first six overs. Head’s big-match temperament was also not lost on anyone – he had hammered match-winning hundreds for Australia in two ICC Finals last year. Starc had got the prized scalp for a duck.

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It was reminiscent of what he had done in the final of the 2015 World Cup at the MCG in 2015. Starc had cleaned up Brendon McCullum with a searing in-swinger to give New Zealand a big early jolt in the high-octane clash nine years ago. McCullum, just like Travis Head in IPL 2024, had been in devastating form in the World Cup smashing over 300 runs at a strike rate of 188.5 – by far, the highest in the tournament.

Starc was charged up. He would nearly had Rahul Tripathi lbw with a snorting yorker in his next delivery. But the left-armer was in the mood and he had found an occasion. Nitish Kumar Reddy became his second victim as he could not handle the pace of a short-pitched delivery and top-edged a pull for an easy catch to the keeper, Rahmanullah Gurbaz. A red-hot Starc then sent Shahbaz Ahmed packing, disturbing his stumps with the very next delivery. SRH – the most attacking team in the powerplay this season – had faced a counter-attack led by the great Australian quick – and were in shambles at 39 for 4 in the fifth over. It was their worst start in the powerplay the entire season – SRH were on the backfoot and played catch-up for the remainder of the evening. Starc’s opening spell had broken the backbone of their top order and KKR had one step into their fourth IPL final. He had again stepped it up in Ahmedabad, as he did last year in the World Cup final against India.

Only two other bowlers have returned with three (or more) wickets in the powerplay in a playoff/knockout match in the history of the IPL. Shane Watson bagged three wickets conceding just 10 runs in three overs for the Royals in the semi-final against Delhi Daredevils in 2008. Dhawal Kulkarni accounted for four RCB batters giving away just 8 runs in his three powerplay overs in the Qualifier 1 in 2016. Starc now has nine wickets in the powerplay this season – only Jasprit Bumrah with 10 has more.

Starc’s big-match temperament

It takes a special effort to raise one’s game on the big stage in a big tournament especially after poor returns through the season. Starc had bagged just 12 wickets from 11 innings in the group stages. He was not even amongst the four highest wicket-takers for KKR in the tournament. Worse, his economy of 11.4 made him the most expensive bowler for his franchise this season. But cometh the hour and cometh the man. There is a reason why KKR paid INR 24.75 crores for Starc at the 2024 auction. He is an all-time great in limited-overs’ cricket with the ability to rise to the occasion when it matters most – in the knockouts of big tournaments.

Starc’s big-match temperament was on full display in the 2015 and 2019 World Cups. He was the joint highest wicket-taker in the victorious edition at home in 2015 and the highest wicket-taker in England in 2019. Not only did he pick big opposition wickets but also was the most restrictive bowler in both the semi-final and final in 2015. He got four against England and five against New Zealand in two of the biggest games for Australia in 2019. Starc also played his part in the 2021 T20 World Cup semi-final against Pakistan, bagging two crucial wickets at critical junctures in the match. He returned with three wickets each in both the semi-final and final of the victorious 2023 World Cup in India.

A legend in white-ball cricket

Speed and accuracy are Starc’s greatest weapons in white-ball cricket. His propensity to pick wickets in heaps stands out in the shorter formats. Starc has picked 236 wickets in 121 matches at a strike rate of 26.4 – the third-best in ODI history (min. 100 wickets) after Mohammed Shami (that is a story for another day) and Shaheen Shah Afridi!

Starc has an impressive strike rate in T20 cricket, too – he has bagged 74 wickets in 60 outings for Australia at 18.2 balls per wicket. He is a bigger wicket-taker in T20 domestic cricket, where his 112 dismissals have come at a brilliant strike rate of 14.2 – amongst the best for an international bowler in domestic cricket!

Starc is in another final of a world event in white-ball cricket. He has played his part in three World Cup wins already. What are the odds of him rising to the occasion again on Sunday night and adding the IPL to his rich trophies cabinet!

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