‘Harden the f*** up’ – Stern words that led to Starc’s durability

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Mitchell Starc has the strong words of former Australia coach Tim Nielsen still ringing in his ears as he stands on the brink of a remarkable achievement.

As impressive as that is, Starc is arguably prouder of the fact he is set to play his seventh straight Test of a southern hemisphere summer. It is something he has not done in his 14-year international career. The closest he has come was 2017-18, where he missed one Test out of eight when Australia played five against England at home and three against South Africa away in the span of four months.

A once fragile Starc has become Australia’s iron man, pushing through pain to play game after game for his country. He distinctly remembers a conversation on one of his early tours with Australia in 2010, that led him to realise that pushing through pain was part of the job.

“I was still learning what all those pains were and obviously the reports get around from physios to coaches and I sort of got told to harden the f*** up a little bit,” Starc said. “Timmy Nielsen probably made me aware that early doors. Obviously, there’s plenty of times you need to be honest with the medical staff but other times you got to know when to push through things.”

The last 12 months has been one of those times. Starc was Australia’s leading wicket-taker in the away Ashes last year despite only playing four Tests.

He was supposed to go on the limited-overs tour of South Africa before the ODI World Cup but was withdrawn due to lingering groin soreness. Starc has never revealed the exact details of the issue nor has he outlined the pain he was in. He remains tightlipped on both.

But there were grave concerns for him during the World Cup, where he hardly trained and had to make slight changes to his run-up to mitigate against long-term injury.

That he got through the tournament without issue was impressive. That he has been able to back up and play seven Tests in a row since is even more so.

“I think a lot of work goes into that a lot of work that people don’t see or whether it be the rehab or the handling of niggles or there’s certainly sore mornings for a lot of people,” Starc said. “But I think that comes down to experiencing and knowing how to deal with certain things and finding ways through them to still make an impact with a team or perform and carry out your role.”

Surpassing Lillee will be a monumental achievement. He is the only bowler in Australia’s top eight wicket-takers with a strike-rate under 50. Of the 27 men who have taken more than 350 Test wickets, only Dale Steyn, Waqar Younis and Malcolm Marshall have a better strike-rate than Starc.

“It’s cool. It’s humbling,” Starc said. “It means I’m old. I’ve played a little bit of cricket.”

Starc also has another landmark in sight. Tim Southee will become the latest pace bowler to bring up 100 Tests in Christchurch this week and Starc is 12 away. If his body and form hold up, he could join the club in 2025.

“To play 100 Test matches as a fast bowler is a huge achievement for [Southee],” Starc said. “If I can get that far, that’d be nice as a bowler and again that’s probably showing a bit of age and experience but a bit of longevity as well and then the work to become resilient and to push through a few things. So if I can get that far it’d be a nice touch but at this stage, it’s one week at a time.”

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