Mitchell Starc had the perfect response to his critics on Thursday night as he starred in Australia's victory over South Africa to reach the Cricket World Cup final. Much-maligned for a sub-par tournament so far, Starc had been criticised for his inability to take early wickets with the new ball.
Heading into the semi-final against the Proteas, Starc had only taken four wickets in the powerplay so far this tournament at an average of 34.75 - and 10 wickets overall at 43.90. Ricky Ponting and Ian Healy had both been vocal in their criticism of the Aussie attack with the new ball, but Starc and Josh Hazlewood produced the goods on Thursday night.
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Starc dismissed Temba Bavuma for a duck in the very first over, before picking up Aiden Markram not long after. The left-armer snared 3-34 off 10 overs - his best figures of the World Cup so far and a welcome return to form for Australia's strike weapon.
Speaking before the semi-final, Ponting called out Australia's seamers over their lack of impact in the powerplay. The former captain pointed out that the Aussies had only taken eight wickets in the powerplay so far - the third fewest among all 10 teams.
“That’s got to be a worry for them,” Ponting said. “It’s one thing I’ve been a little bit disappointed with. You look at the release of the Australian quicks, compared to the releases of the Indian quicks. (Mohammed) Siraj, (Jasprit) Bumrah and (Mohammed) Shami hit the seam, bowl upright, down the wicket, getting some shape and seam. The Australians haven’t been able to swing the new ball hardly at all right the way through this series, and for mine it’s all down to that release point.”
Healy, who is the uncle of Starc's wife Alyssa, said: “If we haven’t got South Africa one or two wickets down in that powerplay, then it’ll be a big total to chase. Is (Starc) still a potent force?
“He’s not been potent at all in this tournament. Ten wickets off eight games is not bad but where is he taking these wickets? He won’t be potent at all until he gets it right and zero in on the stumps much better than he has. Fire into those stumps and feet.”
Mitchell Starc and Aussie bowlers shine in semi-final
The fact Healy's criticism came from within Starc's family circle would have stung. But the veteran bowler responded in the best way possible on Thursday. His double strike with the new ball helped reduce South Africa to 4-24 and set up Australia's win by three wickets at the death. He also made a vital 16 not out with the bat as he and Pat Cummins (14 not out) got the Aussies home with 16 balls remaining.
Hazlewood finished with 2-12 off eight overs - the most economical figures of an Aussie bowler in an ODI in 17 years. He produced 39 dot balls out of the 48 he bowled, getting the key wickets of Quinton de Kock for three and Rassie van der Dussen for six. Cummins snared 3-51 and claimed the crucial wicket of David Miller for 101 near the end of South Africa's innings, which finished at 212.
"The good thing is a few of us have been there for a final before, so we can draw on that," Cummins said about facing India in Sunday's decider. "A couple of other guys in T20 finals as well. The stadium is going to be pretty one-sided I reckon. So you just have to embrace it and enjoy it."
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