Mitchell Starc has an impingement at the front of his right ankle. Photo: Getty Images
THE bone spurs on Mitchell Starc's ankle were a closely guarded secret until Mickey Arthur's frustration with bad press on Cricket Australia's new-age player management came pouring out.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, India's Ishant Sharma has emerged as a cautionary tale in CA's plan to nurse one of its most gifted young quicks through a punishing tour of India and back-to-back Ashes before the problem is fixed.
Starc has an impingement at the front of his right ankle, which is manageable at the moment but serves as a sign that the joint is under stress when it flares up. He had spurs removed from the same ankle two years ago - an operation that requires about three months' recuperation.
The belated revelation that Starc is bowling in pain was central to coach Arthur's fierce attack on critics of the rotation policy, after an almost unrecognisable Australian one-day team's humbling loss to Sri Lanka in Adelaide on Sunday.
The ankle problem played a major part in the decision to rest Starc from the Boxing Day Test. This wasn't disclosed at the time, and there was surprise among insiders that the ailment was suddenly made public after the event, while Starc sat out the second ODI with a minor and unrelated calf problem.
''It's a question of how far you inform … I don't think it's in the interests of the player to reveal every little niggle,'' said selection chairman John Inverarity.
''Players basically don't want to be seen as vulnerable or physically suspect, and we respect that. We won't always say, 'He's got a bit of a bad knee', because more can be made of it, and it's awkward for the player. We'd rather take the heat than the players.''
''It was a pretty clear-cut decision [to rest Starc on Boxing Day]. It wasn't in the interests of Mitchell Starc, or Australian cricket, for him to play in that game.''
The decision to delay surgery is similar to the calculated risk taken by India with Sharma, who carried bone spurs through last summer's four-Test series in Australia.
The injury flared up during the series and he endured a difficult tour, managing just five wickets at 90.2 before having surgery to remove the impingement, followed by a three-month recovery period.
Glenn McGrath missed a whole Australian summer after having two operations to have spurs removed from his ankle in 2003-04 and there are precious few gaps in Australia's schedule to allow Starc enough time to have surgery, recover and build up his bowling workload again.
If he had the operation now he would miss the four-Test tour of India but could get fit in time for the Ashes.
Arthur said it would have been ''plain stupid'' to risk losing Starc for the India tour by playing him on Boxing Day.
He could no longer contain his exasperation with criticism of the rotation system or, as Inverarity insisted it should be called, ''informed player management'', and took exception to suggestions that sports scientists were picking Australian teams.
''[That is] so far off the mark it's frightening,'' said Arthur, who will himself be rested for the next ODI and rejoin the squad in Sydney on Saturday. ''They give us information and then it's up to us to make the final decision. Michael [Clarke], myself and the selector on duty make the decision based on information that we are given.
''Mitchell Starc plays in all three forms of the game and … he's got spurs that are going to require an operation at some stage. We're hoping that will be a year down the line but at some stage it's going to give in.
''He is bowling in pain, but that is part and parcel of being a quick bowler. We're hoping we can get him through India and England and then get it done.''
Former Test paceman Brett Lee had pre-existing spurs removed from the back of his ankle after he bowled on a broken foot in the Boxing Day Test in 2008 against South Africa, and recovered in time for the 2009 Ashes only to break down again with a side strain.