Starc sadly didn’t make peace with Warne but he’s rising into rarefied air

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Mitchell Starc will likely finish his career alongside Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne as Australia’s three greatest wicket-takers in all formats as he enters Saturday’s first Test just four scalps away from becoming the seventh member of the nation’s 300 Club.

But he was never able to convince Warne that he was a truly elite fast bowler as the spin king would launch into a near-yearly ritual of questioning his place in the Australian side.

Warne offered to catch up with Starc earlier this year for a beer to mend a few of the bridges he’d burnt to the ground but sadly they never did get around to it before the shocking news came through in March that the leg-spinning legend had died of a heart attack, aged 52.

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“The disappointing part, or the sad part, is that we never got to have that conversation,” Starc told reporters in Brisbane in the lead-up to his 74th Test in the series opener against South Africa on Saturday.

The 32-year-old NSW left-armer admitted the criticism from Warne and others in the media used to leave him rattled before he made a conscious decision to block out the external voices.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 11: Jason Holder of West Indies bowled Mitchell Starc of Australia for 11 runs during day four of the Second Test Match in the series between Australia and the West Indies at Adelaide Oval on December 11, 2022 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Sarah Reed - CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

(Photo by Sarah Reed – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

“I was someone who listened to and read everything,” said Starc.

“And then that year we had multiple broadcasters start (when Seven and Fox took over telecasting duties in 2018-19), everyone coming in with radio and whatever. That’s when it really doubled down on the noise and it really got away from me.

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“That’s where I learnt it was best to let things go and only worry about the groups that mattered most to me.

“It’s part of cricket, you’re going to have your critics and everyone is entitled to have an opinion.

“That was a point where it changed a fair bit, where where I chose not to read things and it’s continued on where it doesn’t matter.”

The old adage of everyone deserves to have an opinion, funnily enough, is what Warne said in an interview with The Roar last summer when asked about his constant Starc criticisms.

“I’m just honest. There’s nothing personal whatsoever against anyone. I think it’s important if you’re going to say something and I don’t consider myself controversial, all I do is speak my opinion and over 30 years I think I’ve earned the right to have an opinion.”

Shane Warne working for Fox Sports on Boxing Day, 2021

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Starc’s Test teammate Usman Khawaja, who came through the NSW ranks a few years ahead of Starc, agreed that the fast bowler took some time before he could focus on what mattered.

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Khawaja remembered the youthful Starc as a “very emotional young kid and he knows that”.

“I always give him a bit of stick about that … because it’s nice to see the journey. He always had the skills, but it was more about what was going up there,” he added, pointing to his noggin, “for him which is the case for all international players and he’s found a way through it.”

Starc now has 580 wickets across the three international formats after taking 211 in ODIs and 73 in T20s, which places him behind Warne (1001), McGrath (949), Brett Lee (718) and Mitchell Johnson (590). 

Australia’s top wicket-takers in all formats

Tests ODIs T20s Total
1. Shane Warne 708 293 1001
2. Glenn McGrath 563 381 5 949
3. Brett Lee 310 380 28 718
4. Mitchell Johnson 313 239 38 590
5. Mitchell Starc 296 211 73 580
6. Craig McDermott 291 203 494
7. Nathan Lyon 450 29 1 480
8. Dennis Lillee 355 103 458
9. Jason Gillespie 259 142 1 402
10. Josh Hazlewood 217 108 58 383
11. Pat Cummins 202 124 55 381
12. Steve Waugh 92 195 287

He’s an even 100 ahead of spinner Nathan Lyon, who has not played much white-ball cricket for Australia, and another century clear of pace cartel comrades Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, who are also three-format exponents.

Starc will likely go past Johnson during this three-match series against the Proteas and he could overtake Lee for third spot in the next couple of years but McGrath and Warne’s stratosphere may be too high to reach.

But, in the age of fast bowlers like England’s James Anderson excelling at Test cricket past his 40th birthday, who knows where Starc will end up. 

There are plenty of questions surrounding South Africa’s batting line-up and they will not want to know that the Gabba is Starc’s second-most prolific Test venue in Australia after the Adelaide Oval where he has 44 wickets at 17.09 due to his wizardry with the pink ball in day-nighters.

In nine matches in Brisbane, where he made his debut way back in 2011, Starc has 37 wickets but curiously, his average of 31.51 is his highest apart from Sydney (46.19) on home soil.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 02: Bowlers Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon of of Australia walk onto the field at the start of play during day four of the Second Test match in the series between Australia and Pakistan at Adelaide Oval on December 02, 2019 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe - CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

Starc said brushing the millions of dollars on offer in the Indian Premier League wasn’t good for his bank account but had allowed him to refine his bowling, particularly in the Test arena.

And despite being in the veteran class, he’s shown no sign of slowing up both on the speed gun and his career. 

He and his wife, Australian keeper Alyssa Healy, have taken a more “holistic approach to life”, designating time to be away from cricket. 

“Mentally and physically it’s been hugely beneficial and probably paid for itself,” he said.

“If I look at the last two years, they’ve probably been my most consistent couple of years in Test cricket.”

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