Starc's chance to make South African mark

Mitchell Starc in full tilt Getty Images

A remarkable amount of Australia's most memorable displays of fast bowling - in recent times - have taken place under South African skies. Jason Gillespie emerged as a force here in 1997, Glenn McGrath had his way with the Proteas batsmen in 2002, Stuart Clark did likewise in 2006. Mitchell Johnson achieved the rare distinction of dominating two Test series, in 2009 and 2014, during which Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus and a courageous Ryan Harris all had their moments.

In between those two trips, came perhaps the most striking performance of them all - certainly the most unexpected. A teenaged Pat Cummins bolted from club cricket to the New South Wales domestic scene to the Test squad and a Johannesburg debut in 2011. His combination of hostility and maturity helped win a see-sawing classic for Australia, even if Cummins' body was at least another five years away from being able to cope with regular Test match punishment.

Absent from this honour roll, however, are Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. Neither of them were fit or selected for the past two tours despite already being in the Australian set-up. Both of them were in a Test squad to face South Africa as far back as Ricky Ponting's final Test, in Perth in 2012, but the Johnson resurgence alongside Siddle and Harris left them surplus to requirements.

"I knew I'd be a little bit sore from having two weeks off and having to bowl a fair bit, but it hasn't hit me that hard yet. The heel's feeling pretty good"

Mitchell Starc on his return from injury

So it is with plenty of curiosity as well as enthusiasm that Starc embarks upon this assignment as the most experienced member of what the Australian captain Steven Smith has taken to calling "the big three", alongside Cummins and Hazlewood. If he joked about Cummins' choice of late-night viewing material this week, it was with a serious undercurrent about using the recollections of others to compensate for his own lack of experience in South African conditions.

"I think he was chasing up some footage from his Test match here as he falls to sleep," Starc said of Cummins. "We've got a good bowling meeting coming up when we get to Durban [on Tuesday]. We're talking to him through his bit of experience there, Nathan Lyon's played a bit here as well, and pick a few of the batters' brains as well as to what a few of the wickets might do, because a few of us haven't played too much here.

"It's going to be exciting to be a part of and as viewers as well I reckon. We don't focus too much on them [South Africa], a lot of what we can do and focus on our strengths. A lot of that's coming from the summer and how we all complement each other a lot. We'll chat about the batters in detail, maybe a little bit about how they approach their bowling in these conditions, but a lot will be on what we can do to the best of our ability to take 20 wickets each Test."

Starc's most recent Test appearance was at well below full fitness. Having suffered a bruised heel during the decisive WACA Ashes Test in December, he missed Boxing Day at the MCG but insisted on taking his place in the team for the final match of the series on his SCG home ground. Having rushed back into action, Starc was short of his best early in the match before gradually improving, but the after-effects of it all were evident in some decidedly unthreatening ODI displays.

Like numerous other members of the Test side, Starc clearly needed a break, and after two weeks of relaxation and travel to South Africa, he was able to deliver a far more hostile level of speed in the Australians' only warm-up fixture at Benoni. "I've had five days out of the six bowling, so it's been good for the body, good to get a couple of wickets," Starc said.

"I'm one of the ones who hasn't played any red-ball cricket here," he said. "So it was nice to have a good three days hit out. [I feel] probably a hell of a lot better than I was after the bruised heel. The two weeks has been really good for the heel. I knew I'd be a little bit sore from having two weeks off and having to bowl a fair bit, but it hasn't hit me that hard yet. The heel's feeling pretty good, so hopefully it's good signs for the rest of the series."

There was one neat subplot to the final day of the warm-up match, as the tourists got the chance to make the newly selected South Africa batsman Wiaan Mulder feel as unwelcome as possible as the fixture headed towards an Australian victory. Starc was central to this attack, hurling down plenty of bouncers on a pitch offering uneven bounce, with the unashamed intention of giving Mulder something to think about should he be named to play the Kingsmead Test on Thursday.

"We thought we'd give him a little bit of a taste of what he might have to face if he gets a game through the series," Starc said. "I think a few of us said they might have announced their squad a day too early. It was nice to take the handbrake off for a few overs and show him what he might be facing if he gets a crack through the series."

Mulder, of course, did not need to be facing Starc to know that Australia's pacemen have invariably felt at home in this part of the world. There is all the aforementioned history, captured in a heap of television footage on YouTube and elsewhere, to tell him that.