AFTER a solid winter of English county cricket and a marathon spell in Australia's WACA Test loss to South Africa, paceman Mitchell Starc questioned Cricket Australia's blanket rule designed to cocoon fast bowlers from possible injury by restricting their volume of deliveries.
Starc, who was left out of the first two Tests of the series, bent his back in Perth to bowl 44.5 overs. The 22-year-old was rewarded for his effort with eight wickets, but, more significantly, he challenged sports science's conventional wisdom and CA's rotation policy that restricted the amount of deliveries bowlers could bowl.
''I always believed no one is the same, so you just can't have a blanket rule and say everyone has to bowl this much and have so many days off because everyone bowls differently, everyone's action is different,'' Starc told Fairfax Media. ''You just need to find the balance between bowling too much and not enough and I think, at the moment, I've found a happy medium where my body is still recovering enough to get through the rigours of four or five-day cricket.''
Starc made his point at a time when teen sensation Pat Cummins was poised to have his action analysed by the great Dennis Lillee and Brett Lee after he was sidelined again by stress fractures in his back; James Pattinson also appeared set to miss the Sri Lankan Test series because of a side strain; John Hastings, who made his debut in the baggy green cap at Perth, was rested from the Big Bash League after he bowled 39 overs and finished with a stiff back, while NSW bowler Josh Hazlewood is also out of the coming three-Test series with a foot injury.
Starc did nothing different to his fellow pacemen to recuperate from a tough slog in the middle - he had ice baths, rested, slept well and stretched - but he is a fan of constant bowling. ''After the Australian season finished we did the West Indies tour and after that I went straight to England to play in their four-day, one-day and T20 competitions for Yorkshire,'' he said. ''I had the option to play in the IPL but I think in the long run [playing county cricket] was the right option because it allowed for me to keep my body ticking over in terms of workload and playing longer forms of cricket and not just Twenty20 cricket.
''I learned a lot about my cricket there, the head coach at Yorkshire was [former Australian paceman] Jason Gillespie, and it was good to talk to him about bowling in English conditions and bowling in general.
''So I put in a lot of work over the last six months to make sure my body is right to get through four-day and five-day cricket. I was never worried about bowling too much, obviously I didn't expect to bowl that much over three days [in Perth] . . . it wasn't what any of us expected . . . but my body is still fine and I'm ready to go. In terms of workload it didn't have too much of an effect on me.''
Fairfax Media columnist and former Australian fast bowler Geoff Lawson was an advocate for pacemen, such as Starc, to do what he did during his career and understand his body. ''By training appropriately and continuing to bowl and not having rest periods when I needed to keep bowling, I got to understand my body and what it needed,'' Lawson said. ''I just knew I needed to keep bowling and [that] to stop bowling made me stiff and painful; you just learned that stuff after bowling for so long.''
Starc, who started his junior cricket career as a wicketkeeper, has emerged as one of the 'Mr Reliables' of the Australian attack because whenever he has been thrown the ball, he has bagged some big scalps, including Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis. Starc, who also finished the Test loss to the Proteas with an unconquered 68 runs batting at No.10, said an underlying reason for his decision to play county cricket was to become more familiar with English conditions for next year's Ashes tour.
''I'd never played there before and I thought if, hopefully, I got the chance to play in an Ashes tour, the experience might help me,'' he said. ''There was a series of little things Jason and I tried and if they worked it was good, if not we tried something else. It was [also] good to be left alone a little bit in terms of not being around the Australian or NSW set-ups and to learn a few things on my own. That's probably a good thing for a bowler, to work out how to get through things on your own.''