Could Starc Be Australia's Ironman In India?

Ironman Starc*
                         * (image has been altered i.e. Starc is not actually Ironman)
Not since a country kid from Narromine nicknamed pigeon answered the call for wickets during the then fiery furnace known as the 1994 West Indies cricket tour have Australia needed a bowling superhero to step forward and make the world take notice.

Could Mitchell Starc be that hero?

While you must win with spin if India is to be conquered, pace is not without its place.

In 2004 an Australian team that included Shane Warne, the spin king on a baked beans and vegemite toast diet, still had to rely on their pace brigade to stifle the locals and win a series in India for only the second time in 30 years.

Sure, that team included Jason Gillespie and the aforementioned Glenn McGrath, a duo considered the best Australian pace combination since Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson.

For better or worse, Australia’s bowling strength still lies in our pace attack.

And this is where the early damage can be done to a potentially dangerous though brittle looking Indian batting card.

And like his superhero namesake in Tony Stark, Mitchell may need to become the Ironman wicket taker of this tour.

Starc is coming off the kind of summer that pop songs are written about. It was a glaringly rose coloured, heady season where success came in all forms of the game.

The Beach Boys could not have penned a more pure summer of enjoyment.

But if Australia represents a Beach Boys sweet summer paradise for pace men, India is the atonal dark and dingy Jazz club opposite.

India in India is an entirely different, much more difficult and much less harmonious and melodic task.

The wickets will no doubt be slowed to a pace more akin to bowling on sand and the flat, low Indian conditions are as heartbreaking to quick bowlers as a flat ocean is for surfers.

Indeed India will challenge Starc and his fellow pace exponents who all, like Will Ferrel in Talladega Nights, ‘just want to go fast’.

But Michael Clarke and his fellow selectors should place Starc at the vanguard of this challenge.

Australia will need the bulk of overs and a more than fair share of wickets rotated through Xavier Doherty, Nathan Lyon and Glenn Maxwell or Steve Smith.

Though Australia still need an effective initial attack that could hopefully make early inroads into a batting line-up that has recently done its best Violet Crumble impersonations when faced with the Aussie quicks.

It’s the way bowlers shatter batsmen that matters and Starc as the Australian Ironman should be given a chance at the first hammer blow.

The flat decks of the sub continent will not let balls out of their dusty grasp without back breaking effort, but Starc’s natural combination of height and pace should still have an early effect and rattle many top order bats.

And as Ian Chappell has pointed out, Starc’s natural movement into right-handed batsmen will trouble the likes of the erratically brilliant Virender Sehwag and the rising Virat Kohli. These are two players that Australia need to keep in check if they are to keep India’s totals from resembling Sydney housing prices.

But Australia also needs a pure wicket taker, and at the moment Starc is possibly the most dangerous one they have.

A lot will depend on the ability of Starc to get the voodoo-esque mystery of reverse swing happening in his favour, not to mention the small matter of being selected in this bowler rotating, trigger happy world we live.

But if he does get on the park, as I believe he should, he could be the one to call out the ‘win with spin’ truism as the lie Australia need it to be.

This current series in India looms as a challenging litmus test for Mitchell Starc. And if successful it could define the career trajectory of one of Australia’s most exciting pace prospects.

The Look of LeBron

LeBron steps back to shoot over KD. Image ESPN
LeBron James has many game faces. There’s the ‘wow, you call that a foul’ face, the ‘wow, you didn’t call that a foul' face, the ‘wow, you really shouldn’t guard me’ face and the most common ‘wow, did I just make that inhumanly awesome shot…. again?’ face.

But in the recent show down with Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder LeBron produced one face that this writer has never seen.

It came towards the end of the second quarter of a contest that had already become as flat and tasteless as a fat free rice cracker.

Like said cracker the Thunder had crumbled under the weight of basketballs most immense talent and would never pick up the crumbs.

The face? Well it appeared after James hit a step back jumper over Kevin Durant with 1:40 to go in the quarter.

The look said ‘this is normal! Its just what I do’ and it marked the evolution of the most dangerous side to a Superman that for all intents and purposes could come from another universe, such is his current level of play.

If opponents hoped that LeBron’s kryptonite would prove to be complacency, born out of a comfort for delivering Miami the promised keys to the NBA Kingdom, the evidence of this recent form suggests they will be left hopeless.

The face I saw was of a player who not only believes in his ability, but also  believes that this ability has plenty of improving to do.

Complacency does not live in King James’ castle.

And this was no performance made against an also ran team looking for a free seat at the draft lottery.

This was King James’ schooling the heir apparent, the ‘Durantula’ as he is known, who is desperately trying to set up his band of Thunder marauders for an attempted invasion of the Kingdom.

But the title that LeBron and the rest of his merry men from Miami guard with such suffocating efficiency will not be conquered without a King James like immortal effort.

It is an effort that right now seems beyond Durant and the Thunder, as well as just about every other pretender in the NBA.

Like upstart little siblings the entire league is literally being held at an arms length by an overbearing and more gifted big brother.

Individually LeBron is kidding everyone, even himself, with the ease he is scoring, passing and defending.

LeBron glides around the court doing literally everything with such dominant ease that to call basketball second nature is to sell his ability short. He is leading his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and field goal percentage

Basketball is first nature to James.

As Matt Dollinger, writing in Sports Illustrated, so succinctly puts it ‘Miami's shortcomings become irrelevant when LeBron is playing like this.’

Miami’s shortcomings are several, but most of them are negligible when the teams best player is playing in such a rarefied air he could be in danger of suffocating.

At present James is proving as un-guardable as Steve McQueen in the Great Escape, in fact an army may be the only way to confine King James and his Heat teammates as he leads them towards another NBA title.

The ‘this is normal! Its just what I do’ face was so dangerous in its intensity that upon witnessing it another face of inevitability flashed before my eyes.

While its still too early to be sure, that vision looked a lot like LeBron’s ‘wow, we just won it all…again!’ face reflected in the Larry O'Brien trophy.

A Masters Last Blast?

My wife (middle left of the screen, not the dude in the singlet) celebrating India's World Cup win in 2011.

From standing on the outside looking in there seems 3 major foundations that the current Indian test team will build around during the coming series against Australia.

The first is the characteristic tortoise paced pitches. These graveyards are littered with the exhausted bones of pace men both past and present and the Indians hope they will have enough space for a few more.

The second is Harbhajan taking wickets, which he does so against Australia with particular aplomb (as well as doing or saying something irritating. Or both!)

The third is Sachin Tendulkar.

Unfortunately for both Indian and world cricket it seems that one of these pillars is crumbling faster than said sub continental pitches, and it’s not Harbhajan’s wicket taking ability.

Last summer Tendulkar arrived in Australia amidst a fever hotter than a murg saagwala.

The anticipation of the little masters looming 100th hundred drew out fans from all over the nation. People would pack their cricket lunches over conversations on whether or not today would be the day.

Those conversations went on for 4 months and were never satisfied.

Tendulkar, while not statistically failing in the series, nonetheless failed to reach a career milestone in a significant cricketing contest for what seemed to be the first time (it must be reminded that he subsequently made his 100th hundred in a ODI versus Bangladesh.)

And while the excitement may have outstripped the potential achievement, the disappointment in Tendulkar’s inability to deliver in one of crickets highest profile contests hinted at what hard times lay ahead.

Like a waning Kung Fu master still trying to see off a younger apprentice, 2012 may prove to be the year Tendulkar’s stone was finally taken from his hand.

From January through to December last year Tendulkar averaged just 22 runs in 16 innings, a record that is hard to draw comparisons to because there has seldom been a top order player that has survived long enough to have one similar.

But there has seldom been a player like Tendulkar and this is precisely why he continues to play.

India will never drop the man considered the greatest since Bradman. And his overall career statistics and public popularity suggests doing so would be akin to sacking Santa Claus.

But eventually even Santa Claus is shown up to be to a figment of your imagination, and you move on with memories of the good times that no longer exist.

Tendulkar’s form has gone the way of a memory, one that has been lost for a while and that all of India would dearly love to regain. But on current form this seems as unlikely as Harbhajan keeping his rather pointed opinions to himself.

Tendulkar has exceeded 30 runs just once since January of last year. Less a dry spell than a full-blown Martian drought. As alien a predicament that Tendulkar has ever found himself in.

And while you could never write off a player who has made more centuries than anyone else, this recent record suggests Tendulkar may be heading towards a similar elongated, heartbreaking and inevitable end as that of Australia’s own grand master, Ricky Ponting.

At some point in the near future Father Time’s incessant knocking on Tendulkar’s fortified door will become irresistible.

Tendulkar is a great cricketer but he is only a man amongst (younger) men.

Like Ricky Ponting before him Tendulkar’s record and contribution to Indian, and indeed global, cricket deserves more than a slow disintegration into irrelevancy.

Neil Young once sang, its better to burn out than fade away.

If this is to be Tendulkar’s final series, it would be fitting for there to be one last spark. A final burning innings the master blaster can sear onto the memories of his millions of fans.