Mitchell Starc may still set the IPL season alight – having sunk nearly a fourth of their auction budget on one player, Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) surely hope the Australian pace ace will. Their bowling coach Bharat Arun said on Tuesday it was a matter of time before Starc found his rhythm. But in 16 previous iterations, only once was the most expensive player of the season also the most valuable. That was in 2017 when Ben Stokes lived up to his Rs14.5 crore price tag with 316 runs, including an unbeaten 103, and 12 wickets in 12 games for Rising Pune Supergiant.

KKR spent <span class=
KKR spent 24.75 to sign Mitchell Starc in the IPL 2024 auction.(AFP)

There have been some excellent long-term gains from some of the most expensive buys – think MS Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir, Kieron Pollard and Ravindra Jadeja – but at 34, Starc isn’t likely to be one.

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Apart from Stokes, Shane Watson’s bowling skills – 20 wickets with a best of 4/29 against Gujarat Lions where he dismissed Suresh Raina, Jadeja and Dwayne Bravo – which put him in third place among wicket-takers and took Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) into the final in 2016 was an instance of the season’s most expensive buy living up to the tag. Watson wasn’t MVP though, that went to teammate Virat Kohli for 973 runs, still a record.

At a KKR event before the season, Nitish Rana, the stand-in captain in 2023 because Shreyas Iyer’s back needed surgery, had said one of the things they lacked last term was the absence of a death bowler. Starc should be more than adequate compensation, Rana had said sharing the dais with the left-arm legend who has 358 Test wickets, 236 ODI scalps (16 of which came in 10 World Cup games in 2023) and has been a proven campaigner in T20s despite largely giving IPL a wide berth. “He will be somebody KKR can bank on to win matches on his own,” Manish Pandey, back with the franchise after six seasons, told HT speaking separately.

Explaining why they spent 24.75 crore from the allotted purse of 100 crore on Starc, KKR managing director Venky Mysore had spoken of his leadership quality, an important prerequisite given that the team’s Indian pace attack is thin on experience. “Every team has the same purse: 100 crore. Each team slices it differently…How you slice it depends on your strategy and composition of the squad. We chose to slice it this way,” he said in a KKR video.

In two games Starc has not justified anything Rana, Pandey and Mysore have said. With Sunrisers Hyderabad needing 39 runs in two overs, Starc ran into a Heinrich Klassen-Shahbaz Ahmed storm and leaked 26 runs. It was only because Harshit Rana held his nerve in the 20th that KKR and Eden Gardens could breathe again. Starc’s figures in KKR’s season opener was 4-0-53-0. It was 4-0-47-0 against Royal Challengers Bengaluru where Starc bowled a good third over, the innings’ 16th, going for only seven, but went for 16 in the last over and 17 in his second.

Collated figures of 8-0-100-0 was too much for Iceland Cricket, that handle on X with more than a funny bone, to resist. “More expensive than a beer in Iceland,” was its repartee to a post. Arun is sure that will change, maybe even on Wednesday when Delhi Capitals host KKR.

“He is probably one of the most experienced bowlers in the world, understands the conditions here and can adapt to it very well. I think you will see a different version of him in the future,” said Arun in Visakhapatnam. Asked about conversations with Starc, Arun said: “Nothing about the price, definitely. But we have been talking about his strengths. I am sure he knows and understands what it takes to succeed. With the kind of experience he brings in, it is just a matter of time before you see Starc in his element.”

Nine of the 11 wickets to fall in Visakhapatnam’s only game this season went to fast bowlers so, there’s reason for Starc to look ahead to the midweek fixture and prove himself. Till then, he will be on a list that has Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen ( 9.8crore in 2009), Shane Bond ( 4.8 cr in 2010) and Yuvraj Singh ( 14 cr in 2014 and 16 cr in 2015): most expensive buys who had forgettable seasons.


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