Australian selectors took a massive gamble by dropping paceman Mitchell Starc for Friday evening’s must-win T20 World Cup contest against Afghanistan — and the decision backfired.
The talented left-armer, Australia’s most prolific white-ball bowler over the past decade, was axed in favour of Kane Richardson for the crucial Super 12 contest at Adelaide Oval, with the host nation making three changes to its starting XI.
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Aaron Finch and Tim David did not recover from hamstring injuries they sustained during Monday evening’s match against Ireland, with former captain Steve Smith and young all-rounder Cameron Green replacing the duo.
Tasmanian wicketkeeper Matthew Wade led Australia in Finch’s absence, but it was the third change to the team that turned heads.
“(Starc) has got to be injured,” former Test captain Michael Clarke declared in commentary.
“There’s absolutely no way you can leave him out of tonight’s game.
“If anyone’s going to rip through Afghanistan’s batting, it’s Mitchell Starc.
“I don’t get it.”
Former Australian batter Mark Waugh tweeted: “Starc should be playing. He is an aggressive wicket taking bowler who could easily rip through Afghanistan. Richardson more of a holding type bowler.”
Speaking on ABC Radio on Saturday, former Australian coach Justin Langer was equally perplexed by the call to drop Starc.
“I must admit, I was very surprised Mitchell Starc didn’t play,” Langer said.
“I’ve been saying this for a couple of years now, he’s the best white ball bowler in the world.”
Richardson snared the crucial wicket of Afghanistan wicketkeeper Rahmanullah Gurbaz, but conceded 48 runs from his four overs, making it the fourth most expensive T20I bowling spell by an Australian on home soil.
Speaking to reporters after the four-run defeat, Afghanistan coach Jonathan Trott confessed he was “surprised” by the decision to omit Starc.
“We’re not quite sure why Starc didn’t play,” he said.
Starc offered a glimpse of his destructive potential against Ireland this week, taking a double-wicket maiden in his first over of the run chase.
The 32-year-old obliterated the stumps twice in the space of five deliveries, castling Curtis Campher with a trademark in-swinger and George Dockrell with a vintage yorker.
But Starc leaked runs in the middle overs, conceding 43 runs from his next 18 deliveries as Ireland wicketkeeper Lorcan Tucker chewed into Australia’s precious net run rate.
Starc, who has traditionally opened the bowling for Australia, has adapted to a new role during this tournament, bowling predominantly in the middle overs rather than in the Powerplay.
“It‘s obviously something new,” he told reporters in Brisbane on Tuesday.
“Obviously, we’ve got Josh (Hazlewood) and Pat (Cummins), who were fantastic across formats with the new ball as well.
“I think that’s a positive that we’ve got plenty of options that it may not be my only role; it may not be Josh and Pat’s only role.
“We could change, as I said before, with different conditions, different opponents, whatever the match-ups may be.
“So, yeah, that seems to be my role at the moment, and I’ll just keep developing that and hopefully keep playing that role throughout the tournament.”
Starc has taken three wickets at 34.00 in the T20 World Cup with an economy rate of 8.50, while Cummins has leaked 9.16 runs per over throughout the tournament.
On Thursday, Australian cricket legend Ricky Ponting suggested that Test captain Pat Cummins should be the bowler who makes way if a change was required.
“If they are thinking about a quick going out, and this is going to be a tough decision for the selectors, but if they are thinking about that, then maybe it is Cummins,” he told reporters at the MCG.
Australia will need to defeat Afghanistan by a huge margin on Friday, or pray that Sri Lanka upsets England at the SCG on Saturday evening, for any chance of progressing through to the semi-finals.