Starc grows swing wings in South Africa
AUSTRALIAN spearhead Mitchell Starc finally has the red ball swinging again, just as South Africa try to blunt his impact by pre-ordering a slow pitch for the first Test in Durban.
The Proteas are nervous about getting into a gun slinging battle with Australia's pace attack and will reportedly try and tone down the fiery wickets they served up for India last month.
However, Starc feels he has made a major breakthrough with his game that may take the surface out of the equation.
Over recent home summers Starc and other bowlers have become increasingly disillusioned by the distinct lack of swing offered by the Kookaburra ball - as has Cricket Australia, who have started using Dukes balls for the second half of the Sheffield Shield season.
Flat balls on even flatter wickets have been a crying shame for a bowler like Starc who when at his best - as he was for the 2015 World Cup - was having his swing bowling skills compared to the magic worked by former Pakistan great Wasim Akram.
The Kookaburra didn't move off the straight for Starc for the entire Ashes summer, but the left-arm weapon has discovered the South African variety seem to still have wings.
Since arriving in the country Starc has relished in that long lost feeling of making the red ball talk through the air.
Australia are pessimistic about what kind of pace they'll get out of the Durban track, but the silver lining could be that Starc is out to relaunch himself as the king of swing.
"Starcy … was so happy the way the ball was coming out," said captain Steve Smith when asked about the freshness of his quicks.
"He was swinging it … you could just see on their faces that they were a bit more refreshed and just ready to go."
Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins seized upon an unusual opportunity to bowl at Australia's batsmen in a centre-wicket session in Durban on Tuesday, just two days out from the first Test.
Hazlewood struck Usman Khawaja on the helmet and Starc caught Smith high on the gloves in a willing session where the Australian pace attack showcased the dynamic nature of their three-pronged combination.
South Africa have a world class bowling arsenal of their own but don't want to expose their batsmen to Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins on a lightning fast deck.
The Proteas are also likely to abandon their penchant for playing five specialist bowlers (four quicks and a spinner) in a bid to further fortify a batting line-up that against India looked decidedly thin with out-of-form wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock struggling to score at No.6.
As a result, Smith and the Australians are expecting a pitch that could play host to another war of attrition like they faced against England on flat surfaces during the Ashes.
"It didn't surprise me. I thought that they'd go with quite slow wickets or maybe green wickets. One of the two. I didn't think they'd have a great deal of pace," said Smith upon inspecting the Durban wicket.
"Looking at the wicket now a couple of days out, it looks like it could be quite slow, maybe not a great deal of carry.
"It's just about summing it up when we're out there and adapting to whatever we're dealt and identifying it quickly and making sure we're doing everything we need to do on our feet quickly.
"The first Test match is so important so you don't want to be behind the Eight ball early in this series."