With Indian cricket team to touch down in just a few days, the team’s fan base down under is abuzz with excitement and victory zeal. Although they were disappointed earlier in 2015 when their heroes – Virat Kohli in particular, failed to deliver the repeat of their 2011 World Cup win, fans are busy preparing their day on January 17 when they come face to face with ‘Kohli klan’ on the MCG. And Mitchell Starc names Yadav, Shami as India’s key bowlers.

Not only girls are busy which dress to wear, which placard to carry and what to shout to attract a glance of their stars from the field, hoping to get close enough to get their autographs as well, the boys are also facing the dilemma, particularly who are both NaMo and Kohli fans – what masks to wear.

And as always, the fan base is not limited to Indian Australians alone. And to no one’s surprise, many players in the current Aussie squad of 26 players and some, who are recuperating from their injuries included, are looking forward to the battle of the cricket titans on the MCG come January 17.

And one such player – no surprises – is Mitchell Starc – who was declared the Man of the Tournament of the 2015 Cricket World Cup, a diehard Virat Kohli fan and colleague who plays under Virat in the Indian IPL’s Royal Challengers Bangalore team.

Mitchell decimated Indians taking 6 wickets for just 43 runs in the last Australia and India ODI at the MCG played on 16 January 2015. Although injured at the moment and not in the playing squad, he offered some valuable insights into the game of cricket between the two countries both the on and off-the-field, speaking exclusively to Bharat Times. Excerpts:

You are the key bowler for your IPL team in India – Royal Challengers Bangalore. How do you compare the planning and preparations as a key bowler there in Bangalore playing for IPL team and here playing for Australia?

MS: The preparations are very different in two countries. One has to assess and make adjustments according to the pitches and other local conditions and Bangalore is a different game altogether to games in Australia and so is playing in the IPL.

Is playing for your country now is same as it used to be before the IPL and other leagues came into existence? What sort of spirit does the game carry for the players like you?

MS: Each game you play, of course you play to perform and deliver your best no matter where you are playing. But playing in an IPL like tournament and playing for your country are still different although you may be playing with the same players.

Do you have a special plan for Indian batsman – especially Virat Kohli – who is perhaps the most prized wicket in the team after Sachin and Sehwag are gone now?

MS: As you know because of my injury I won’t be lining up on the day but I am sure everyone wants that game to be good and competitive. Let us all hope it is a good day of cricket that day.

Mitchell Starc rates Virat Kohli as a very good leader who likes to lead from the front and is cool and collected under pressure, Shikhar Dhawan as very aggressive opener who is a delight to watch and rates other Indian batsmen like Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma as very good and (once they get going) can score a lot of runs. Mithcell, as a good, committed cricket wished a number of times – January 17 to be a good day of cricket – which gives fans what they’d come to expect and see.

What is your assessment of Indian bowling? Who do you think is the most promising bowler in the Indian Squad?

In the bowling area of Indian cricket team – Mithcell Starc named two bowlers as his best bets – Umesh Yadav and Mohmammed Shami. According to Mitchell Starc, (although he said he had not seen the Indian cricket team named for the tour down under) – if India has to really play well – Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Sami will be the key bowlers.

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How will you compare the playing conditions and pitches in India to Australia – other than the normal sporting lingo that Indian pitches are slower than our local pitches?

MS: Pitches in India to pitches in Australia are very different. In India, pitches keep quite low and turn a lot which Australia pitches are hard and bouncy and one has to see where one is bowling.

In Mitchell’s view Indian bowling’s reliance will have to be both on Spinners as well as fast (or medium fast) bowlers – to manage to play good cricket here in Australia.

Do you think local teams have home pitches advantage over the visitors?

MS: Yes, that is always there. In your home country, you know the pitches better; you know the conditions better and whether you are bowling or batting, you do feel at home having played in those conditions, almost all the time you’ve been playing cricket. Home teams always have home-pitch advantage.

Melbourne has a big fan base for Virat Kohli. Although you took 6 wickets and were Man of the Match at the MCG (18 January 2015), Kohli’s wicket went to Faulkner and he made only 9 at the MCG. What do you think will be his score this time on Jan 17, 2016? Any guesses?

MS: No, I would not like to put any number but I would like it to be a good game of cricket for all the fans.

Mitchell Starc in action

We also talked about how players from different countries now play together almost the whole year in one country or another and thus their inter-relationships going through changes and transformations and its impact on – “sledging problems” which are now non-extant.

Yes, we all enjoy the game together and enjoy each other’s company both on and off the field; sometimes we even go for drinks together after the day’s play; it is different game these days when there is hardly any (room for) sledging; we may have a bit of banter at times and tease each other a bit but nothing serious… playing cricket is different these days…”.

With the advent of IPL and now numerous leagues all around the globe and almost all of the players of some reckoning – finding themselves in the mix one way or another – play each other or play alongside each other. And the reality is – their financial interests are – in many cases – intertwined. Thanks to Lalit Modi’s re-modelling of the game into IPL, it is no more a seasonal game. All sporting stars are now busy all year round – playing somewhere or the other; they are super-stars trained to perform not just on the field but also on television – in various shows – public appearances – radio shows and now some even online shows. And the facts are – fans are not complaining either. They still cannot get enough of them!

For Indians coming down under, a lot is riding on Yadav Shami key bowlers.

As Mitch said, let us hope our super-stars play well on the day. So, get your kids ready, pick up the decorated Indian flag with Kohli Klan placards and off to the MCG on January 17. See you there!

by DM with inputs from Raj Kumar

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