Mitchell Starc magic not enough for Australia who have work to do
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It was always going to require a lot of things to go right. In the early days of Test cricket, 250-run chases were often viewed as mountainous, and they can still be on hazardous pitches. It took Australia a flawless day to hold off an English team that had already bitten off 27 runs from the target without losing a wicket the previous evening on a top-class Headingley surface.

When Jonny Bairstow lost his stumps for the umpteenth time in Test cricket, the visitors had every chance. There are 80 more runs to be scored. Harry Brook, the new sensation joining Bairstow and Root, stayed at the crease until 21 runs were required, top-edging a catch on 75. After letting a 2-0 lead slip to 2-1 with two matches to play, Australia will look back over a performance that fell short too often, particularly some of the bowling tactics that twice allowed England to push a collective foot to the floor.

Mitchell Starc’s efforts were the reason Australia came close. Starc deserves to be reappreciated as more than just a luxury item, with caveats about flighty performances and possible runs per over. A frequent injury problem, the left-arm quick hasn’t missed too much time since 2018. Despite dropping his strike rate and economy, he has become one of Australia’s most durable players. In the first match of this Ashes series, he was still left out.

As a result of his performance at Lord’s, he went beyond Brett Lee’s 310 Test wickets and Mitchell Johnson’s 311, leaving him behind only Dennis Lillee and Glenn McGrath in the canon of Australia quicks. Even at 33, when most fast bowlers are winding down, he appears to be improving. His ability to strike was displayed again in Leeds: his 14th five-wicket haul was his fourth in the final innings of a match: only ten players have done that more often. When you look at some of the dismissals – Bairstow chopping on, Stokes gloving down the leg side, Brook topedging a slog – it would be easy to dismiss the bowling as ordinary. They don’t just happen by themselves. Deliveries that swing in or leave the bat in the channel can set up dismissals from other balls, players chasing runs when they sense a chance.

Balls that appear innocuous can make mistakes due to the combination of speed, movement, and unpredictable bounce. Let’s not forget what happens when Starc gets it right. Moeen Ali and Ben Duckett both received Starc’s new wobble-seam delivery. Full, fast, angled at leg stump, then decked back into the lefthander. Moeen didn’t even get to duckett’s pad before Duckett got in the way.

Mitchell Starc magic not enough for Australia who have work to do

Starc will play at Old Trafford, but other things will have to change. In effect, Australia lost this match at a few points before losing it on the fourth day. On day one, Mark Wood amputated their batting tail, the last six wickets falling in no time for 23 runs. It will be difficult for them to handle his short bursts of extreme speed.

Second, England’s tail was wagging furiously under Wood’s leadership. Despite being 70 runs behind when Wood came to the crease, a predictable bouncer barrage let him thrash 24 from eight balls, helping England narrow the gap to 26 runs. Wood hit another 16 after Brook was out in the fourth innings. A total of 40 runs were scored from 16 balls in the match. Australia’s short-ball attack is all or nothing at the moment. It’s either six or seven boundary riders with a bouncer every ball or there aren’t many short balls bowled, as through the first two hours of the last day. A player can sit back and get ready to play baseball when he knows there’s nothing else coming, as Wood did. These lower-scoring games can be won with short bursts of fast scoring, even if it involves risk and may work for a team with 500 on the board.

On the other hand, when players are forced to switch between front foot and back foot, between attack and defense, confusion is more likely to arise. An unexpected Starc bouncer whistled past Moeen Ali’s sternum close enough to give him a chest wax two balls before coming tentatively on to the front foot. There is general agreement that variety is a positive. There are two more chances for Australia to strike the right balance.