South Africa looms but Starc makes case for return

A tour of South Africa is approaching next month but the here and now is all that matters to Mitchell Starc as he edges closer to featuring in ‘s Ashes victory lap in Sydney.
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The odds of the left-arm spearhead resuming his spot in Steve Smith’s XI shortened on Tuesday when he completed more than 30 minutes of bowling at full tilt in the nets at the SCG, appearing uninhibited by the bruised heel that led to him being scratched for the Boxing Day Test.

The speed and intensity with which he trained left little doubt about his intentions on whether to take the field when the fifth and final Test begins on Thursday.

The key to his return is in how he pulls up from the hit-out but having missed previous Tests due to fitness reasons in his six-year career, the 27-year-old is desperate to play in Sydney.

An n team spokeswoman insisted Smith himself was also in no danger of being sidelined at the SCG despite sitting out training on Tuesday with a stiff back.

Bowling great Glenn McGrath said he would be tempted to rest Starc if he was not at 100 per cent so as not to risk jeopardising his presence for the four-Test series against South Africa that begins in Durban on March 1.

However, there is a desire from , who are 3-0 up in the series, to finish off England in style in Sydney in a match that is sold out for its first three days – and they are unquestionably at their best with Starc in the line-up alongside Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.

“It would be nice to keep the same team similar to the 2013-14 Ashes,” Cummins said.

“They finished with the same side that started, so it would be nice if the fast bowlers finish as we started off.

“He looked like he was bowling quick. He was running around and wasn’t limping. I know he was really keen to play and he was pretty confident. I think now it’s seeing how it recovers.

“He’s played a lot of cricket now and he knows his body pretty well and what he can get through. I’m sure they will take a lot of it on his word and see how they go.”

Jackson Bird replaced Starc in the drawn fourth Test and there is an expectation he will play in Sydney, rather than Ashton Agar as a second spinner, if the left-arm quick is ruled out again. The chances are the Sydney-raised Tasmania seamer would find the wicket produced at the SCG far more favourable than the lifeless strip he toiled on at the MCG.

England, however, appreciated not having to cope with Starc’s reverse swing in Melbourne, where their tail was spared being tormented by him, and there would likely be a sigh of relief from them if he was unavailable again.

“Obviously he’s bowling 10 or 15km an hour quicker, a different angle, he swings the new ball and he’s pretty good with reverse as well,” England opener Mark Stoneman said.

“It showed in Melbourne. The pitch was on the slower side but it made it harder for Smith to rotate his attack. He always had someone coming in hard attacking pretty fresh.

“The key moments he had to bowl Cummins and Hazlewood and after that it was a release of the pressure. No disrespect to Jackson … he’s got a fine record himself but him compared to Starc, they play different.”

While Starc’s prospects rose, McGrath indicated should be careful about taking chances with the Proteas series on the horizon.

“He’s such an integral part of the n line-up,” McGrath said. “I think they missed him in Melbourne more so bowling to the tail, because the pace and the lengths he bowls he can clean up a tail pretty quickly.

“You want him playing but you want him at 100 per cent and you want to make sure next series he’s ready to go at 100 per cent, so if Starcy’s not 100 per cent I’d be tempted to rest him, unfortunately for the Sydney public. They want to see him performing on his home ground and he wants to be out there as well, but you’ve got to think ‘OK, South Africa’s important.'”

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