Geoff Lemon discusses how Starc and the Australian team are constantly striving for perfection, although their progress is evident.
“I have yet to produce a flawless game,” Mitchell Starc stated on ABC radio following Australia’s victory over England, which has almost secured their spot in the World Cup semi-finals. It’s a common sentiment in sports, the belief that there is always room for improvement even in times of success. This mindset is what motivates athletes to continue training day after day, year after year. Whether it’s aiming for greater heights, faster speeds, or greater strength, or as Daft Punk sings, “harder, better, faster, stronger,” the pursuit of perfection is what drives them.
Australia has achieved five consecutive victories in the World Cup despite initially losing the first two. Starc is correct in acknowledging areas for improvement. Their opening bowling showed improvement during the match in Ahmedabad on Saturday night. However, their middle-order batting still requires refinement.
The team’s batting strategy faltered during their defeats against India and South Africa due to a high number of dot balls from the middle order. However, their victories were determined by strong performances from the openers and Glenn Maxwell, who provided crucial support to maintain a quick scoring pace.
In the match against Sri Lanka, Mitchell Marsh’s performance and Maxwell’s 31 runs in 21 balls helped the team achieve a relatively easy chase. However, in the game against Pakistan, David Warner and Marsh’s partnership of 259 runs was followed by a decline in runs scored after Maxwell’s underwhelming performance. Similarly, in the match against New Zealand, Warner and Travis Head’s impressive score of 175 runs in 19 overs was followed by a period of low scoring until Maxwell’s 41 runs in 24 balls brought the team back to life.
Without Maxwell and Marsh in the team against England, the difficulty increased. When Head and Warner were dismissed by Chris Woakes within six overs, the situation became more difficult. Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne had to work to fix the situation, but they took their time like some tradesmen. The run rate, which was initially above six an over, dropped to around four as the pair approached the pitch with caution, as it had a tendency to grip the ball.
As time passed, both Smith and Labuschagne increased their pace. In the end, Smith scored 44 and Labuschagne scored 71, with the latter’s innings becoming more strategic and making a significant impact. However, upon careful observation, one may question if their initial strategy needs to be adjusted as players do not always have the opportunity to catch up.
Labuschagne, for example, has scored a total of 272 runs in seven games during the World Cup, but his strike rate is only 79. Out of all the players who have scored more than 100 runs in this tournament, 46 have done so at a faster rate. The only player who has scored more runs than Labuschagne but at a slower rate is Hashmatullah Shahidi, the captain of Afghanistan.
When Adam Zampa stepped up to bat as the 10th player, Australia was lagging behind with a score of 247 despite strong performances from Cameron Green and Marcus Stoinis. Zampa’s overall one-day run count of 256 was only slightly higher than his 156 wickets, and his individual score of 29 was his second highest in his eight years of playing international cricket. Although he showed courage, Australia was fortunate that Zampa contributed to their final score of 286, making it a more competitive game.
Getting off to a strong start was crucial in protecting the goal. Taking wickets early on is a specialty of Starc’s, and he began this World Cup with one against India. Since then, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan all had notable opening partnerships of 108, 125, and 134, respectively. New Zealand was able to score 61 runs by the 8th over, setting a fast pace and coming close to reaching their goal of 389. Even the Dutch team’s 28-run partnership was a significant portion of their total score of 90. In previous World Cups, Starc’s strategy was to overpower the opposing opening batters. However, this time he has opted to provide them with opportunities instead.
He regained his skill against England, dismissing Jonny Bairstow on the first ball of the innings with a seemingly harmless delivery that had enough speed and movement to cause a nick down the leg-side. He then got Joe Root to edge twice in the next two overs, one catch was dropped but the other was taken. This hindered England’s progress and despite efforts from Dawid Malan, Ben Stokes, and Moeen Ali, they were unable to get close enough for the lower order to secure a victory.
Starc remarked that as the night went on, it became evident that the ground was very wet and the ball was difficult to handle, similar to a slippery bar of soap. He also mentioned that it was satisfying to take wickets early on and also during the middle of the game, as the conditions favored batting when the ball was skidding and hard to hold onto.
A lead of 33 runs leaves little room for mistakes. However, the points have been secured and Marsh will return from Australia in time for Tuesday’s match against Afghanistan. Additionally, Maxwell has recuperated from his head injury. While there is a desire for a flawless performance, it is also important to recognize that the outcome is what ultimately matters. In knockout tournament play, completing the task at hand is far more significant than the way it is achieved.