On Boxing Day in 2012, cameras repeatedly panned towards a seething Mitchell Starc, the tall left-armer who was visibly fuming on the sidelines at the MCG.
Less than 24 hours earlier, national selectors revealed he would not feature in the sport’s pinnacle event, making way for Jackson Bird to make his Test debut against Sri Lanka.
Starc was not injured, and he was coming off a match-winning five-wicket haul in the previous Test at Bellerive Oval, so his omission understandably puzzled many cricket fans.
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With several pacemen in the casualty ward, national selectors had opted to impose a rotation policy throughout the 2012/13 summer, and Starc was not an enthusiastic advocate.
“Absolutely shattered,” he tweeted on Christmas Day.
Fast forward eight years, the controversial rotation policy has been largely scrapped by national selectors, who trust Australia’s bowling attack can power through an entire Test series.
Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon and Starc played all four matches in the recent Test series against India, but fatigue became a genuine concern when the squad travelled to Brisbane for the series decider.
The quartet twice failed to claim 10 wickets in the fourth innings at the SCG and the Gabba, which ultimately cost Australia the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Starc was particularly inaccurate and ineffective in Brisbane, where he lacked the bullish aggression he’s become renowned for throughout his international career.
And when examining Starc’s numbers in the Test arena, a disturbing trend emerges which suggests the rotation policy is due for a comeback.
The left-armer has historically been less successful with the ball towards the end of a Test series, his best performances seemingly coming at the start.
MITCHELL STARC’S BOWLING AVERAGE IN TEST CRICKET
1st match of a series — 24.04
2nd match of a series — 24.75
3rd match of a series — 31.67
4th match of a series — 36.94
5th match of a series — 52.66
MITCHELL STARC’S STRIKE RATE IN TEST CRICKET
1st match of a series — 44.1
2nd match of a series — 44.3
3rd match of a series — 55.7
4th match of a series — 60.3
5th match of a series — 101.0
Starc could potentially benefit from time to recuperate throughout a lengthy Test series, particularly in the age of COVID-19 when bubble fatigue exacerbates the problem.
The depth of Australia’s bowling stocks certainly isn’t a concern, with talented pacemen James Pattinson and Michael Neser patiently waiting in the wings.
The rotation policy has worked wonders for England’s Test team recently, with the side frequently resting frontline pace bowlers.
With an Ashes series on the horizon, utilising the rotation policy might be an effective strategy for the Australians as well — it certainly paid dividends in 2019.
“We look back at the last Ashes series in England, and one of the things we did do is rotate our bowlers really well,” Australian coach Justin Langer said on the Cricket, Et Cetera podcast this week.
“But it would have taken a courageous person or people to say, ‘We’re not going to play those guys in (the Gabba) Test match’.
“Think about the hysteria if we didn’t play those guys.”
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Speaking to reporters last week, chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns conceded the rotation policy could have been beneficial during the recent India Test series.
“In hindsight, that’s possibly something that could have been done.” Hohns said.
“Prior to finalising any team, we check with medical people and even check with our players sometimes just to find out how they are doing.
“The games were pretty tight and close together, maybe we have to be a little more mindful of that going forward. However, in this instance, all the bowlers had recovered sufficiently for the medicos to give them the thumbs up.
“We considered those three fast bowlers, who had performed very well over a long period of time, were the best ones for the job. Once we’d checked to make sure they’d recovered sufficiently we thought it was the best attack.”