Almost four years since they made their Test debuts, the left-arm duo finally get another chance to faceoff – this time as vital ingredients in their respective nation’s chances of success.
It’s been 1,424 days since Trent Boult and Mitchell Starc last faced off in a Test match. Tomorrow they will go full circle as they prepare to draw battle once more, this time at The Gabba.
The previous and only time the two have met in Test cricket was during a humdinger in Hobart, as long ago as December 2011. Coincidently that match also marked the debut of Boult and just the second Test for Starc. New Zealand would eventually come out on top, claiming a nail biting 14-run victory to level the series at 1-1.
That match remains the last Test meeting between the Trans-Tasman rivals and things will be much different this time around. In Brisbane on Thursday, New Zealand will field seven of the same line-up from that Hobart encounter; Australia will retain just four of theirs.
As Australia begins their home summer a side very much in transition, their little neighbours from across the pond remain a settled unit under the sound tutorage of Brendon McCullum.
Many are making the Kiwi’s favourites for the three-Test series, but for them to overcome the barrier – which has seen them not win a series against the old enemy for 30 years – they must get into the inexperienced Australian middle order with early strikes.
For the home side, who have already made the decision to omit Peter Siddle from their line-up, it’s imperative that they regain the control in their bowling which was largely missing when they surrendered the Ashes during the winter.
With two of the three Tests being played on the fast and bouncy wickets of The Gabba and the WACA – this is set to be a series for the quicks. Moreover the tantalising battle between the left-arm speedsters Boult and Starc is set to be at the forefront of the excitement.
Both men have been in scintillating form this year. And four years out from their debut series, they rightfully come into this campaign with high expectations on their shoulders.
The bar was set exceedingly high earlier in the year. Although it was in white ball format, the two World Cup duels between Boult and Starc at both Eden Park and the MCG – were not for the fainthearted.
Witnessing that low scorer at Eden Park firsthand will live long in the memory. Australia looked dead-and-buried after Boult blew them away during his 5-27. But Starc, not to be outdone, almost singlehandedly hauled his country out of a huge crater with a combination of successful bumpers and inswinging yorkers. His 6-28 eventually wasn’t to be enough that night, but he would gain his revenge in the final a month later.
Another perfect Starc yorker accounted for McCullum in the first over at the MCG and his side never recovered. Despite dismissing Aaron Finch for a duck in the second over of the reply, defending just 183 never really looked plausable for Boult and his fellow Black Caps.
It was a World Cup to savour for both men. Starc was named man-of-the-tournament for his outlandish achievements; 22 wickets at 10.18 in all. Boult spent the six weeks hanging onto the Australian’s coattails, eventually matching him wicket for wicket, his 22 victims coming at a modest 16.86 apiece.
But while both men have enjoyed sustained success in limited overs cricket (Starc sits #1 and Boult #3 in the latest ICC ODI bowler rankings), they have endured contrasting Test careers thus far.
Boult’s 123 Test wickets at 27.12 – represent an excellent return for a fast bowler in this era. He’s been a near-everpresent alongside fellow new-ball partner Tim Southee and the pair have benefitted from and thrived under the imaginative captaincy of McCullum.
Starc on the other hand has often flattered to deceive with the red ball in tow. His career has at times resembled more the Hokey Cokey than Sir Paul McCartney’s Ever Present Past. At one stage he had failed to play any back-to-back matches since the two he played after debuting in late 2011.
Injuries, a perceived lack of consistency and the Mitchell Johnson factor, have all played there part in Starc’s lack of continuity in the Test side since. Despite debuting before Boult, he has played ten fewer matches. His 78 wickets at 31.80 are by no means terrible in today’s game, but the general consensus is, that he could be a much better bowler than those figures suggest.
It’s also worth pointing out the opposing economy rates between both Boult and Starc as a way of calibrating one man’s success and another’s lack of continuity. Boult gives away, on average, a stingy 2.86 runs per over, while Starc goes for significantly more at 3.42. This highlights Boult’s ability to do a containing job when required by his captain – something Starc, up until now, hasn’t been able to offer either Michael Clarke or Steven Smith.
The pair have encountered contrasting build ups to this series. Boult has been relatively held back after recovering from a stress injury of the back – sustained during the ODI leg of the Black Caps tour of England in June. He missed the subsequent tour of Africa to focus on getting himself 100% right for this series and has participated in just one first-class match since; albeit taking 5-97 for Northern Districts in a Plunkett Shield fixture against Wellington.
Starc, meanwhile, has been in breathtaking form – crushing through any batsman put in front of him. He shrugged off the postponed tour of Bangladesh with alarming ease – claiming a record 26 wickets at the scarcely believable average of 8.11 in the recently concluded Matador one-day Cup.
If that wasn’t enough he then picked up eight wickets in his one and only Sheffield Shield appearance, swinging the pink ball considerably throughout that match as he warmed up for a return to the Adelaide Oval in a little over three weeks time.
Away from the game, it’s fair to say the two men share plenty of similarities. Boult is Starc’s senior by just six months and one senses both men are relatively quiet characters when compared to their often more exuberant teammates.
Boult has gone on record saying this series is to be the highlight of his career. He will again be expected to spearhead the Black Caps pace attack, whilst offering McCullum both control and penetration in equal abundance.
Since his debut against the Australians, the Rotorua-born seamer has taken more Test wickets (123) than any other left-arm quick in the game, even Mitchell Johnson (116) trails in his wake. More of the same and Smith’s men could be in real trouble.
For Starc this summer offers a chance to finally make his mark and dominate a Test series after a stellar year in domestic and ODI cricket. He showed glimpses of his potential during the Ashes, but more often than not, he has proved much too expensive in a side already affording the added luxury of Johnson.
It’s not unreasonable to suggest that Starc has the correct tools to dominate Test cricket much like his teammate Johnson has done for the past two years. However whether he can finally make the evolution from white to red ball, remains to be seen.
Still, one thing’s for certain. Come The Gabba on Thursday morning we’re sure to expect some left-arm fireworks.
I, for one, can’t wait.