An example of the reliable and durable: Mitchell Starc and a rare piece of cricket history

<span>Mitchell Starc passed <a class=Australia great Dennis Lillee’s score of 355 Test wickets during the second Test against New Zealand at Hagley Oval.Photo: Kai Schwörer/Getty Images” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MA–/ beb6728b8087″ data-src= “–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MA–/ 28b8087″/>

In the second week of March this year, Mitchell Starc passed a big number: Dennis Keith Lillee’s 355 Test wickets, which was still second for any Australian fast bowler. This Saturday, in the fourth week of March, Starc will pass one more: as the most expensive player still on the field in the Indian Premier League, with a season contract worth less than $3 million.

In the modern era, with the emphasis on cricket’s shift from a long-term display of international pride to a short-form tool of trade, most people would probably consider the second number to be more important. Lillee was the sensation of the 1970s, but you have to be almost fifty to remember seeing him bowl.

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After the first day’s play of the Christchurch Test, Starc was respectful but restrained about wicket 356. ‘You always know, especially when Nathan Lyon in the team lets you know, but it’s good to get it out. early enough and then get on with the innings,” he told ABC radio.

“I haven’t really spent much time with DK [Lillee]. [We’ve] Apparently paths crossed through cricket circles [but not] in terms of bowling, but the knowledge is clearly there about what he did for Australian cricket, and how deadly and how good he was with the ball. So, [it’s] “I’m humbled to be up there with those big names, probably showing a bit of my age and experience with the number of games I’ve played.”

No one can argue that Starc doesn’t value Tests. This year he is one of the most devastating white-ball weapons in the game and will be only his third IPL. He has withdrawn every season since 2015 to ensure he is fit for national duties. That long absence may have driven up his asking price when he finally returned, but he still missed out on millions in the meantime.

So perhaps Starc’s reaction was due to modesty, or the fact that he came from a later generation. Perhaps the excitement about 350 wickets seemed passé in the week when James Anderson doubled that tally with his 700th. The era since Lillee has seen numbers rise. Anderson follows Shane Warne’s 708 and Muttiah Muralitharan’s 800, although as a pace bowler against two spinners he is perhaps an even bigger anomaly. Anderson’s old bowling partner Stuart Broad and Indian spinner Anil Kumble are in the 600s, Lyon and Ravichandran Ashwin recently joined Glenn McGrath and Courtney Walsh in the 500s, and eight other players are in the 400s.

And yet Lillee’s achievement is of great importance. Apart from Lillee’s symbolic power, who became a cricket icon with that lithe run and that predatory leap in some of the most compelling bowling action the game has ever seen, he was prolific in the black and white of statistics. He set the Australian record for wicket-taking at 259 and the world record at 310, before extending it to his final 355. Just a few years earlier, that kind of number was thought impossible.

It took four big fast bowling all-rounders to reel him in, with Ian Botham and Imran Khan narrowly taking the lead before Richard Hadlee and Kapil Dev reached the 400s first. After them, careers were defined by the glut of the 1990s and 2000s. New teams emerged, televisions grew hungry and the volume of Test cricket peaked. Of the players with more wickets than Lillee, those four were all-rounders and Malcolm Marshall played in the 1970s. The remaining 21 players made their debut between 1984 and 2011. Of those 21, only five played fewer than 100 Tests, with Starc likely to reduce that list to four soon.

Lillee played 70 Tests, significantly fewer than anyone with more wickets. Yet his rate of 5.07 wickets per Test is behind only Ashwin and Muralitharan. Bear in mind that his Test tally is missing four seasons at its peak: one with his back injury, two with World Series Cricket, and one when the World XI toured in place of an apartheid South African team in 1971/72.

The World XI, captained by Garfield Sobers, brought together the game’s biggest stars for four matches. Lillee smashed them with 24 wickets at the age of 20. The World Series teams led by Clive Lloyd and Tony Greig were similar, with Lillee taking 67 wickets at the age of 26. All of these sides were of higher quality than most Test opposition, but politics meant players never had them. statistics included in their administration. Botham and Kapil were not recruited for World Series Cricket, Hadlee played only one-day matches and Imran played five Super Tests for 25 wickets. Add Lillee’s unofficial wickets to his Test list and he has 446 of the best, more than anyone short of the 500 club.

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All of this is really to say that Starc’s passing of Lillee to the official list is serious business. The left-armer is still sometimes saddled with the early perception that his bowling is erratic, expensive and injury-prone. This is because he had to learn test cricket on the job, was brought into the squad at a young age and then continually dropped and recalled as the selectors struggled to reconcile his gifts with his problems. As recently as the 2019 Ashes, he was on the bench for four of the five Tests.

Since then he has made himself a model of reliability and durability, with 206 wickets at 26. He has played 25 of the last 26 Tests in Australia and New Zealand, all five in Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 2022, and seven out of nine last year in India and England. His bowling action will always lead to quirky offerings, but it also creates the unplayable. His career strike rate is one wicket per 48 balls, a figure that only three players from those outside Lillee have surpassed.

Sitting behind McGrath for all the Australian quicks – that’s a piece of history. And this is a rare era. Josh Hazlewood, if he stuck around for a few more years, might sneak past Lillee as well. Pat Cummins is a better chance, but has yet to turn 31. The next Australian fast bowler to do this has not yet made his debut and the opportunity is 15 years away. Perhaps much further, if the Test calendar continues to shrink. Long Australian careers for fast players are rare, with the wear and tear of hard pitches and the endless competition of each rising generation. With the past as a guide, it is worth appreciating what those in the present have done.

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