South African skipper Faf du Plessis acknowledged pre-match in Perth that Starc had the power to decide the three-Test series.
It’s too early to say whether du Plessis’ words will ring true but Australia’s spearhead made a fine start to the three-match series. Together with rejuvenated vice-captain David Warner – who rocketed the hosts to an imposing 0-105 by stumps defending the Proteas 242 – Starc helped Australia reaffirm that there’s no place like home.
The pressure was on Steve Smith’s side to deliver after a 3-0 Test series loss in Sri Lanka and equally shambolic 5-0 ODI series loss in South Africa.
They bowled, batted and fielded like a different side to the team so thoroughly embarrassed in August on the subcontinent.
Warner needed just 39 balls to reach 50, with all but four of those runs coming from boundaries.
With the exception of an audacious six hammered by debutant Keshav Maharaj and a couple of damaging strokes from Quinton de Kock, Starc was on top of the Proteas.
“I’m still trying to get some of that rhythm and smoothness back, I guess, but to get through 18-and-a-half overs felt good,” Starc said.
“I felt in a good place. My speeds were reading ok as well so, personally, I’m happy.”
The left-armer was expected to be below his best, having admitted earlier in the week he was almost two weeks behind his ideal preparation because of the gash resulting from a freak September training accident.
Instead, he dismissed Stephen Cook, du Plessis, Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn.
All of them were timely wickets. Du Plessis was out edging in Starc’s first over after lunch, while Philander played on to the final delivery of the second session.
South Africa’s innings ended when Steyn’s stumps were skittled, while Cook fell victim to the fourth delivery of the first Test.
Starc went close to hitting the magical 150km/h mark, swung the ball well and beat the bat in his opening salvo. It meant Australia grabbed the momentum shortly after du Plessis won the toss.
“It’s quite gutsy for Mitchell Starc to be out there. It’s good to see,” Shane Warne said from the Nine Network commentary box.
“I think the break might have done him well … he’s looking fresh.
“He’s the best fast bowler in the world. He’s got better and better with experience.”
Du Plessis expressed similar sentiments on Wednesday.
“If we’re going to win this series, it’s going to be how well we’ve played him in those short bursts,” du Plessis said.
“He is a fantastic bowler … it’s important for us to make sure he doesn’t get his tail up and doesn’t get wickets.
“That would mean we put a big threat for Australia aside. It’s important how we play him.
“He’s a wicket-taker so he needs to come on and get wickets. We, as a team, understand that. We need to make sure we get through those periods.”
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