Raw pace is back. After years of limited overs cricket being controlled by spinners and changes of pace by the quicks, genuinely scary fast bowling is once more in command in this World Cup.
All of the top five wicket-takers in this tournament have been clocked at 150kmh or higher in the past month. Mitchell Starc (24 wickets) heads the pack followed by Lockie Ferguson (17), Jofra Archer (17), Mohammad Amir (16) and Mark Wood (16).
All the bowlers have clocked between somewhere around 145 and 150kmh in this tournament. The man who is scything through batting line-ups like no one else, Australia’s Starc, also happens to be the fastest bowler in the tournament.
Data released just before Australia’s thumping win over New Zealand yesterday showed that 32per cent of Starc’s deliveries in this World Cup had been clocked at more than 145kmh.
That placed him comfortably ahead of Wood (23per cent), Ferguson (23per cent), Archer (22per cent) and Kagiso Rabada (12per cent). As Starc set about eviscerating New Zealand yesterday he spent a whole lot of time in that rarefied air above 150kmh.
The final two balls of Starc’s first over were measured at 152kmh and 154kmh. That is not just sharp or swift or speedy, that is downright terrifying pace. International batsmen have been quoted again and again as saying that once bowlers exceed 145kmh their speed becomes a major factor. Once they go above 150kmh it takes an uncommon mix of courage, composure, balance, technique and lightning reflexes for a batsman to prosper.
Right now Starc is bowling quicker even than he was in the 2015 World Cup. He took four deliveries to warm up with the new ball yesterday, clearly feeling his way into his spell. Then he engaged the superchargers. Over the remainder of his opening spell, Starc’s average speed was 149kmh.
That average was dragged down by a couple of off cutters he bowled that were measured in the low-140s – the same style of delivery he used to later dismiss Kane Williamson. Starc rolled his fingers across the seam on that ball, getting the 137kmh delivery to both stick in the pitch and deviate away from the Kiwi star.
Starc’s delivery to Williamson directly before that had clocked 151kmh. The Aussie used his underrated cricket smarts to recognise that pure pace alone was not enough to trouble New Zealand’s best batsman. But what that rushing speed did do was help set up Williamson for the slower cutter. Once he had disposed of the Kiwi gun he used his raw pace to dismiss Tom Latham, Ish Sodhi, Lockie Ferguson and Mitchell Santner.
The ball that trapped Sodhi LBW was, based on the data publicly available, the fastest of the World Cup at 154.3kmh. The fact it was also delivered from around the wicket, creating an extreme angle in at the right-handed Sodhi, made it near-unplayable.
Starc is producing a ton of such deliveries at the moment. He is irresistible. From just eight games so far he has taken four wickets or more in an innings four times. That is as many as Wood, Archer, Amir, Cummins, Ferguson and Boult combined.
Another way of looking at it is that it is roughly equivalent to a batsman scoring four tons in eight World Cup games. Only one batsman in history has ever scored four centuries in a World Cup – Sri Lankan champion Kumar Sangakkara in 2015. But, the reality is you don’t need to quote Starc’s stats to outline his dominance at present.
Sometimes in order to understand the full extent of a player’s command over a series or tournament you need to list their numbers to let it sink in. Right now all you need to do is watch Starc.
And not for long, a single over will suffice. The pace, power and precision he’ll display in that brief period will leave any cricket follower agog. We are witnessing something remarkable. Starc is tearing another World Cup to shreds.