Is Mitchell Starc any more the force he used to be in the T20s?
Mitchell Starc and his association with the T20 leagues have always been discussed. For the last 8-9 years, the left-arm pacer has skipped various T20 leagues, including the cash-rich Indian Premier League (IPL), to remain fit for the national duties, especially the Test matches. Frequent injuries also made him more cautious, as it is never easy for a fast bowler to return after an injury.
However, Starc has expressed his wish to play in the IPL next year and will nominate his name. His last stint in the league came back in 2015 when he represented Royal Challengers Bangalore. While Starc was supposed to play for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in 2018, he withdrew his name due to an injury.
Ever since the news of Starc playing the next season came out, the fans of different teams have expressed their wish to see him in their favourite franchise. Clearly, the 33-year-old is still seen as a match-winner with the ball. But the question is whether Mitchell Starc is as threatening as he used to be all these years ago. The answer is probably no.
While there is no denying Starc’s superior skillsets and his match-winning ability, he is no longer a force in the T20s. Irregularity and prioritising the other formats have a massive role in his downfall as a T20 bowler. He has played the T20I games for Australia, but only in the important series and the World Cups in the last three years or so.
Since 2020, Starc has had 34 wickets at a mediocre average of 28.08, and his economy rate of 8.48 hasn’t been encouraging, either, in the T20Is. Notably, he hasn’t featured in any T20 league since 2016, around eight years. So, his experience in this format is less than required, and his progress hasn’t been enough.
His last outing in this format came in the T20 World Cup at his home last year, where Mitchell Starc looked colourless like anything. He could snare only 3 wickets in three innings at an average of 34, and his economy rate was 9 or above in two of those games despite playing on his home grounds. In the series just before the event against England, Starc could pick only a solitary wicket and gave around 8.83 runs per over.
Earlier, he used to shatter the opponents with his sheer accuracy and pace. Starc was as good in the T20s as in any other version of the game, with his stocks being relatively high. It’s not that Starc has been very poor in the format, but he is no longer an elite operator.
His last stint in his domestic T20 tournament - Big Bash League (BBL) - came in 2014, when he represented Sydney Sixers. Now, this is a crucial thing. Australia’s home season starts in November- December when the BBL is already underway, so Starc doesn’t get enough time to feature in the league. But there have been a few instances when Starc could have played in the tournament, but he refused to do so.
T20 is an ever-evolving format, so the players also need to upgrade themselves with time to stay in the competition. Those who fail to do so fall off the radar in no time. It's interesting to note that even some of the most skilled ODI and Test batters struggle to perform in the fast-paced T20 format. Mitchell Starc is one of those players as well.
For bowlers, the format is even harsher, given the batters are always in attacking mode, with a range of shots in their armour. Starc’s teammate and current Australian captain Pat Cummins is an ideal example. While being marvellous in the other two formats, Cummins is under pressure in the 20-over game. His stints in the IPL have further reinforced this case.
During his peak, Mitchell Starc was a runaway match-winner in the T20 format, as he showed in the 2015 IPL. He took 20 wickets at an average of 14.55 and a strike rate of 12.90 that season.
However, Starc no longer has that control over the lines and lengths required for the T20 format. While bowling for Australia, Starc has looked clueless several times in the T20Is and leaked plenty of runs under crunch situations. While the batters he bowled have evolved, Starc is still there, and it’s not his fault.
At best, Mitchell Starc can be a decent new-ball bowler and make the ball swing. But, his death-over credentials will always be under scanner at this stage of his career. It’s not that Starc can’t improve or won’t perform at all, but there is no guarantee now, unlike during his initial years.
The level of the IPL is at least equal to the T20Is, if not above, and that level will only increase with the blend of the best domestic and international batters liting the league. So, while the hype around Mitchell Starc is over the roof, the teams targeting him will have to be mindful of his current version.