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HomeCricket ReviewsA Wicket 6 Years in the Making!

A Wicket 6 Years in the Making!

The stage was set for the 4th IPL mega auction. Along with the perennial chatter around the team’s retentions and auction strategies, another big story was the return of the inaugural finalists, Chennai and Rajasthan. Banned for 2 years due to involvement in illegal betting activities, both teams stole some thunder from an Aussie pacer’s return to the festival of cricket after, coincidentally, a 2-year break.

Mitchell Starc has been one of the people who has defined the art of fast-bowling throughout the 2-ball era of ODIs. 1.97m of crude thew running towards the batter in the manner of an aesthetic 10-second trot with his baby-faced head aligned vertically throughout the ride, Mitchell Starc stimulated countless younger Gen-Z members to go out and just bowl fast in order to emulate his butter-smooth load-up.

Starc was monumental for Bangalore in his first 2 IPLs, picking up 34 Wickets at an average of 20.38. A foot fracture in 2016 and his preference towards international cricket in 2017 meant Starc was entering the IPL 2018 Auctions as one of the most sought-after pacers. Given the circumstances, the city of joy had no confines to her happiness when the Kolkata Knight Riders made their first buy in the form of Mitchell Starc for 9.4 Crores (the 6th biggest buy in 2018). Acquiring Starc filled the KKR fans with the kind of exhilaration sports fans strive for, and it was in much needed times given that like most other teams, KKR was going through a rebuilding phase.

The anticipation of watching Starc steaming in to bowl his iconic inswingers which threatened both the bails and the toes at the revamped Eden Gardens added fuel to Knight Fan’s aspirations towards a 3rd Title.

With sentiments running at high intensity, all fantasies came crashing down just 2 months later when Mitchell Starc was ruled out of IPL 2024. A Tibial bone stress in Starc’s right leg meant Kolkata’s quench for a premier pacer prevailed. The premonition of vexation due to a master T20 bowler not fulfilling his potential in a KKR jersey was not a maiden event, with Umar Gul and Ajantha Mendis playing a combined 16 matches for the franchise despite being picked together in the 2008 auction. However, KKR fans didn’t get to gaze at Starc wearing the Purple & Gold even once and to add salt to their wounds, KKR effectively purchased Tom Curran for a million USD that year.

KKR did well despite the handicap, finishing 3rd, but managed to reach the playoffs only once more in the next 5 years. Only once did a pacer cross the 15-wicket mark in this period. On the other hand, Starc’s T20 fortunes dwindled as time began to match his pace.

Till 2017, Starc picked up 30 T20I wickets @18.9 with an economy of 6.78, whereas from 2018-23, his average and economy shot up to 25.7 and 8.17, respectively.

Moreover, Starc hadn’t played a single non-international T20 match in the later period.

Thus, at this crossroad of cricket, the two characters of our story found themselves in strained conditions. Under such circumstances, the 2024 auctions came around, and so did Starc’s announcement of entering it after 5 long years! Despite being dropped in the last T20I series he was available for, Starc remained the centre of attention of auction conversation, a rare sight which had remained constant in these 5 years. Meanwhile, KKR had its first homecoming of 2024, with former 2-time IPL-winning skipper Gautam Gambhir returning to his IPL home as a mentor.

As hinted earlier, KKR’s fast bowling returns were rather mediocre over the last quinquennial and had reached an all-time low in 2023, with Russell’s 10 wickets being the highest tally for a KKR pacer in the 16th IPL edition. KKR went into the auction with the 3rd biggest purse, offloading all the foreign speedsters, and Knight Club members got busy in forcing the stars to align for a 2nd homecoming, a homecoming to finish an unstarted business.

Other than Powell, the KKR table laid dormant at the auction table, with the anticipation growing by each passing player though this time the anticipation was to acquire rather than watch Starc. Starc’s teammate Pat Cummins broke the all-time auction accolade, bagging 20.5 Crore, but this was going to be one of Pat’s shorter records.

Mitchell Starc’s name was announced, but KKR was nowhere to be seen. Following a battle between Delhi and Mumbai, Venky Mysore finally raised the paddle at the 9.8 Crore mark, and mission homecoming was on. Gujarat Titans, the side with the biggest purse, joined in the bidding battle, which went on for nearly 10 minutes. Claps echoed around the arena with each bid after the 20 Cr mark. Both teams had pinned their hopes on FLOAT; it was a question about which side was psyched up to break the norms.

Eventually, Nehra Ji decided the limit had been crossed and there was the moment as Mallika Sagar announced Mitchell Starc as the newest Knight for an auction fee of 24.75 Crores.

Social Media went into a frenzy, with a lack of trust being clearly reflected in the current version of Mitchell Starc, and that was legitimate. On the other hand, auction dynamics were being pointed out and how a scarcity of quality fastmen led to the record-breaking bid, which also was legitimate.

While all the analysis about the auction went on in the left side of Kolkata’s brain, the right side mused about the promise made 6 years ago. Time waits for no one, and it was evident for both KKR and Starc, but in a league like IPL, time at times plays out like a flat circle. Piyush Chawla and Mohit Sharma were specimens of this in 2023, and the men in purple once again anticipated, this time for Starc to replicate Lee’s dismissal of Unmukt Chand at KKR’s opening match.

23rd March 2024 arrived, the date of KKR’s opening match. The first innings was a union of events KKR fans had faced in previous seasons: Narine opening, a top-order collapse, and Russell bailing the team out. As the 2nd innings drew closer, Eden anticipated if today’s the day when she gets the wicket which was promised in 2018. Mayank Agarwal, the batter who faced Starc’s first ever IPL delivery, welcomed him once again but only now each of Starc’s deliveries effectively cost 6 Lakhs at the least. Going to his most successful corridor, likely looking for his inswinger, Starc’s inconsistent line meant 12 runs were given of his comeback over. 36 Lakhs down the drain. However, the story of anticipation almost came to a conclusion in Mitch’s next over as Abhishek Sharma slashed a wide delivery, but Phil Salt dropped a sitter, and the ball rolled to the cushions. The bout waged on, and Starc bowled a superb 16th over and the match seemed to be in KKR’s grasp, but the personal wicket column remained desolate.

Coming to bowl the 19th over, a wicket is always around the corner in T20 death overs, but a wicket was the last thing that looked plausible in the successive events. Mitchell Starc was taken to the cleaners, conceding 26 runs and finished his comeback match with a spell of 0/53. Harshit’s nerves edged KKR past the finishing line, but the trolls had got their material, “24.75 Crore player concedes 53 runs in his first match”. Contemplation soon turned into foreboding as hope turned into doubt.

One of the beauties of IPL is consistency in change and fans were back behind Starc, this time in Chinnaswamy. Bowling in Chinnaswamy against a top-class opening pair, the situation wasn’t in favour, but Starc looked in better touch. Finding both edges of Virat Kohli and troubling Cameron Green too, the balls which could have gone to the keeper’s gloves, went racing towards the boundary line. The wicket column remained empty, and anticipation persisted. Trusted with the last over of the innings, Starc faltered again, giving away 16 runs. Finishing with figures of 0/47, Starc’s combined numbers across both games now stood at 8-0-100-0. KKR received their 2nd win, but now the anticipation was growing into frustration.

48 balls bowled, 48 anti-climatic letdowns; Kolkata sighed as the left side of the brain seemed to triumph over the right. Vizag was the next stop. Against a depleted Delhi bowling attack, KKR blazed their way to a franchise-record score of 272. With a massive score to defend at a ground that aided swing, today had to be the end of the anticipation, which had grown into anxiety by now. Starc opened the bowling for the 3rd consecutive game, and the over went for more than 10 for the 3rd consecutive time. Surely the streak couldn’t extend for one more match?

In for his 2nd over, Starc was now bowling to fellow countrymen Warner and Marsh, with whom he shares 4 ICC trophies. Troubling Warner around the 4th stump, the anticipation again reached its crest. As I said, “consistency in change” is also a key feature in this expedition of anticipation.

And then the moment transpired. Out of all the previous balls that found the batsmen’s edges or led to drop catches, the wicket came off a wide half-volley which Marsh drilled straight to Ramandeep Singh. Though it didn’t matter. Mitchell Starc got the wicket, which was assured on 27th January 2018. One brought Two as Starc dismissed Warner to finish the match with 2/25 after 3 overs.

Like all things, we humans assess the experience of anticipation with respect to the result and that’s very much a rational method of evaluation. Some of us have undergone a higher proportion of positive conclusions, whereas others have more often found ourselves on the wrong side of anticipation. Regardless of that, each of us still indulges in the activity of anticipating the future, a de-facto setting in our machinery. The Mitchell Starc saga has been a journey of this very anticipation for the KKR fans, which initially seemed to end in disappointment but has had some sort of a redemption in 2024, yet the future remains uncertain as always.

Well, let’s embrace the uncertainty and anticipation for without excitement, we have nothing.

Sidharth Basu
Sidharth Basu
An avid follower of the game since 2011, I am a student by profession. Generally follow the Indian cricket team and the IPL and have an admiration for the past cricketing greats

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