IPL 2024: Starc question stares at KKR despite two wins from as many games

The Australian pace is lacking in match awareness at the moment, Broad says

Mitchell Starc during KKR's match against RCB on 29 March. (photo: BCCI)
Mitchell Starc during KKR's match against RCB on 29 March. (photo: BCCI)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

When the most expensive buy in the history of IPL returns a figure of none for 100 after the first two matches, it can become a source of worry. There is no doubting Mitchell Starc’s class, but the failure of the master Australian swing bowler with a price tag of Rs 24.75 crores has been sticking out like a sore thumb in an otherwise bright start for Kolkata Knight Riders so far.

It’s still early days and more importantly, his franchise has won both their matches so far. This will perhaps not rock Starc’s place in the playing XI yet but deep down, the pressure must have started to build on the 34-year-old – who is returning to the IPL fold after eight years. There have been several precedents in the past when players with mega price tags have failed to deliver in the first season – like a Sam Curran for Punjab Kings or Ishan Kishan for Mumbai Indians, but none has been as high profile as the decorated Australian.

How bad was Starc really with the ball in hand? A rewind of both the matches shows that while he is succeeding in beating the bat with his away-swinging deliveries during the powerplay, he is being taken for a ride severely in the closing overs with the yorkers eluding him – something which is denting his average beyond repairs. On Friday night at the Chinnaswamy Stadium on a flight deck, Starc beat an in-form Virat Kohli a number of times outside the off stump in the first spell but they did not find the edge.

‘’There is no doubt that when (Starc) he gets it right, he’s lethal with the ball. But he’s just lacking a bit of match awareness in the IPL,’’ remarked Stuart Broad, former England speedster now in India as a TV pundit. ‘’The more he gets to know his captain and his fielding group, the better he will get. He’ll be feeling a bit of pressure because when you come with that price tag, you want to pick up wickets,’’ he added.

 Point taken, but then it’s almost embarrassing to see the rival batters identifying the man with the third-highest number of wickets in the history of the 50-overs World Cup for attack. The KKR seam attack, unlike Pat Cummins’ Sunrisers Hyderabad where a number of senior Indian bowlers are around him, is heavily reliant on Starc – with young Harshit Rana as the second fiddle.

 What, of course, works in favour of Starc is that with the team on an early winning streak – his place will not be in jeopardy for at least five to six matches. Gautam Gambhir, the KKR mentor who was given a carte blanche about chasing the Australian in the mini auction in Dubai, will also desperately want him to succeed while there is another analytical brain in their dugout who can be of help – fast bowling coach Bharath Arun.

A former bowling coach of the Indian team during the Ravi Shastri-Virat Kohli regime, Arun had a huge role in shaping the pace battery in the likes of Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj. The use of four overs in T20 cricket is a different art than that of ODIs and Tests and there are enough precedents of essentially mediocre bowlers shining bright in franchise cricket.

The memes are already out for Starc but one would do well to remember that it’s the franchises who lost all sense of reasoning in going for him. He has returned to IPL on his own terms, and that too at a phase of his career when he has nothing left to prove!     

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