Of Stayers and Strikers: Mitchell Starc’s role.

BY DAN

Today the always excellent Daniel Brettig of Cricinfo brought us the news that Mitchell Johnson would be missing the Sydney Test. Mr Brettig also provided us with the insight that his spot will likely be a choice between Peter Siddle and Mitchell Starc – the ‘stayer’ or the ‘striker’.

The intuitive response is to prefer Mitchell Starc, the striker. Siddle is two weeks from being deemed too slow to be a consistent threat in Test cricket. Starc is 24, can bowl 150kmph and recently did this:

Starc. So hot right now.

The form of Siddle in long-form cricket can probably be considered slightly superior to Starc. Siddle’s 192 test wickets have come at 30.45 runs each, at a strike rate of 61.9, compared to Starc’s 45 wickets at over 36 at a similar strike rate. Since the start of the 2013 Ashes Siddle has 42 wickets at 36 from 15 matches, compared to Starc’s average over 40 in 5 matches in this time. Starc has had an excellent time in shield cricket this year, averaging just 19 with the ball with a wicket every 42 balls. However, Siddle had an excellent outing in his one shield game this season, taking 7 wickets for only 85 runs across the match.

But hidden in this discussion is the fact that Starc and Siddle are actually quite different bowlers. Starc is an out-and-out strike bowler. Similar to Mitchell Johnson, he can bowl unplayable deliveries, as well as some more easily dispatched. He is the kind of bowler that can take wickets when the batsmen is dominant. Siddle is the classic ‘stayer’, working hard to build pressure that can often result in wickets for other people.

Brettig’s article reveals a reason why Starc perhaps has not performed as effectively in recent times for Australia. Although not explicitly noted by the author, Starc implies his performance in shorter forms of the game comes from understanding his own ‘game’ better.

We all adjust differently but with four overs, T20 cricket’s done and dusted pretty quickly. It’s 24 balls to nail as best you can and I guess I know that side of my game really well and am happy with where that’s at. It’s more coming back to the red ball cricket and getting that consistency I need and that starts with my preparation this week.

Starc seems to suffer from an issue that plagued Mitchell Johnson for many years too – not understanding his role as a strike bowler. Since his re-emergence in 2013, much has been made of Mitchell Johnson’s 3 over spells of pure, molten lava. He bowls quickly and he takes wickets. It came full circle recently with Johnson noting that longer spells this summer had sapped his ability to fulfil this role. This is  a role that would suit Starc if picked for the Sydney test.

Treating one of your fast bowlers as a strike bowler – replete with 3 over spells – has a flow-on effect for the rest of your bowlers. It is difficult to sustain more than one bowler in this fashion. Australia has relied on an all-rounder, as well as giving extra overs to ‘stayers’ like Siddle to allow for the short spells of the strike bowlers.

But most of all the presence of Ryan Harris in the Australian side has allowed Johnson the flexibility to pursue his role as a strike bowler to the fullest.

Everyone looks better standing next to Ryno.
Everyone looks better standing next to Ryno.

Ryan Harris is a unique bowler in that he probably best described as a stayer on steroids. He can bowl for long periods of sustained pressure, bringing wickets to the strike bowlers around him. But he can also bowl unplayable balls. Just ask Alastair Cook.

Makes grown men weep. Well, mostly just Alastair.

The presence of someone with the capacity for bowling impeccable line and length at pace has allowed ‘strikers’ like Johnson and Starc to benefit from the freedom to bowl fast.

Source: Espn Cricinfo Statsguru

Player Career average Career average With Harris (matches) Career average with Johnson (matches
Johnson 27.84 20.72 (17)
Starc 36.22 28.91 (4) 36.31
Siddle 30.45 32.00 (19) 32.66
Harris 22.77 22.06

Johnson and Starc average over 7 and 8 runs a wicket better respectively with Harris in the side. Johnson and Starc become all-time greats when bowling in partnership with Ryno. Whilst these averages come from a relatively low sample, it is instructive to see that ‘strikers’ benefitted so dramatically from the presence of Harris. If the selectors choose Starc for the Sydney test, here’s betting that the concerns about his ‘role’ or if he knows his ‘game’ will disappear.

When you’ve got Ryan Harris supporting you, most concerns probably do.

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