On Thursday, December 1, 2011, Australian fast bowler Mitchell Starc received his baggy green from Richie Benaud before the start of first Test against New Zealand at the Gabba. (AP Photo)
Brisbane: Mitchell Starc could barely believe his luck 12 months ago when he was seated beside Richie Benaud on a flight back to Sydney, having just taken four wickets in Australia's eight-wicket win over Sri Lanka in a one-day match at the Gabba.
On Thursday, Starc received his first Test cap from Benaud, the charismatic former Australian captain who has become the doyen of international cricket commentators.
The 21-year-old Starc went onto the field an hour later and slowed down Brendon McCullum — who got New Zealand off to a flyer with three boundaries in the first over of the first Test at the Gabba — by hitting him first on the body with a full-length ball and then on the helmet with a bouncer.
He earned his first Test wicket when McCullum (34) cut a ball directly to David Warner at point as New Zealand slipped from 44 without loss to 56-2. He had Jesse Ryder out in the first over after lunch in almost identical fashion as New Zealand slumped to 96-5.
Starc had another chance against Dean Brownlie put down and missed by millimetres with an inside edge off the same batsman before New Zealand rallied with an 80-run sixth-wicket stand to reach 176-5 when bad light and rain stopped play after 51 overs.
"It is a day I'll never forget. Just to get that baggy green (cap) is a pretty proud moment for me and to get a couple of wickets as well is fantastic," said Starc, who returned 2-52 from 13 overs.
Benaud and Starc only exchanged a few words on that flight last November, revolving around the young paceman's performance in taking 4-27 as Sri Lanka was dismissed for 115. He was slightly overshadowed that day by Clint McKay, who took 5-33.
Turns out, that one-dayer was his second and last match for Australia until a run of injuries to frontline players gave him an opportunity in the series-opening Test against New Zealand this week.
He earned his spot because selectors were looking for something different in an inexperienced attack, so being tall and left-handed helped swing him a starting place at the expense of young Queenslander Ben Cutting — the leading bowler in the domestic competition.
Starc, who only converted from being a wicketkeeper six years ago, started the match in a three-man pace attack led by Peter Siddle, playing only his 26th Test, and fellow rookie James Pattinson.
With pace spearhead Mitchell Johnson out of action for up to five months with an injured foot, there could be a more permanent spot in the Australian team up for grabs.
Allrounder Shane Watson, Ryan Harris and 18-year-old Pat Cummins, the star of Australia's series-levelling win over South Africa earlier this month when he took six wickets in the second innings and hit the winning runs, were all ruled out of the Gabba Test due to injuries. But they're expected back soon.
Another young paceman, Trent Copeland, was overlooked for selection, as was veteran swing bowler Ben Hilfenhaus. So competition is hot.
McCullum judged Starc as the best of the bowlers on the opening day, because of the pace and bounce he generated.
"He was probably, in terms of the length he bowled, the most challenging out of the lot of them," McCullum said. "Obviously he's left arm as well. And his ability to use both the angle he can create going across you but also when he came around, coming from a wider angle as well, I thought he bowled really smart today and I guess he got rewards for it.
"So he'll be pretty pleased with his first day of Test cricket I imagine."
Starc was chuffed even before he started the match, after a quick chat with Benaud when he was presented with his baggy green on the field.
"It was a special moment for me and I won't forget that moment for the rest of my life," Starc said. "He just said a few things that over the last few years he's been watching me."
He was all ears for Benaud, but didn't hang around waiting for tips from the New Zealand batsmen.
"I'm not the loudest bloke on the field, but they say fast bowlers are all a little aggressive," he said. "I didn't say anything out there too much at all, so I just tried to let the performances do the talking."