Mitchell Starc.
Mitchell Starc says fitness criticism early in his career helped him reach record-breaking levels. Image by Darren England/AAP PHOTOS
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How ‘Harden Up’ jab turned Starc into the man of steel

Justin Chadwick March 6, 2024

Pace star Mitchell Starc says he was told in no uncertain terms to harden up earlier in his career, revealing former Australia coach Tim Nielsen warned him against complaining about too many niggles.

Starc (354 wickets) needs just two more scalps to overtake the great Dennis Lillee and shoot into outright fourth spot for the most Test wickets taken by an Australian.

That feat is set to be achieved during the second Test against New Zealand in Christchurch, starting Friday.

Starc, with 88 Tests, 121 ODIs and 60 T20Is to his name, has become one of the country’s most durable fast bowlers.

He has spent large parts of his career playing through pain, most recently during Australia’s ODI World Cup-winning campaign in India last year.

KL Rahul and Mitchell Starc.
 Mitchell Starc appeals successfully for KL Rahul’s wicket at the World Cup in India. Image by AP PHOTO 

But the 34-year-old wasn’t always renowned as being tough as nails, and it almost cost him opportunities at the top level earlier in his calling.

It was only after realising the difference between good and bad pain that Starc was able to thrive.

“I remember early doors – it would have been my first or second tour – I was still learning what all those pains were,” said Starc, who is about to play his seventh straight Test of the southern hemisphere summer.

“Obviously the reports get around from physios to coaches, and I sort of got told to harden the ‘F’ up a little bit.

“Timmy Nielsen probably made me aware of that early doors, there’s plenty of times you need to be honest with the medical staff but other times you’ve got to know when to push through things.”

Starc said Nielsen’s advice helped spark a journey in which he was able to understand his body better.

“I was still learning how to bowl and what my body was telling me,” Starc said.

“I was still going through all those developing pains and what not, and my body adapting to things and it was like, ‘your name’s always down as you have this sore, that sore,’ – there’s good pain and bad pain.

“That probably pushed me a long way to working that out a bit quicker, and not having to say when everything was sore.”

Starc said it would be cool to pass Lillee’s mark of 354 Test scalps.

But his No.1 focus is on helping Australia beat the Black Caps to claim a 2-0 series win.

“It’s something to reflect on if I get that far,” Starc said of Lillee’s mark.

“I’ve never really been about those numbers – it’s cool, it’s humbling, it means I’m old and I’ve played a little bit of cricket.

“But we love the Test wins, so that’s front of mind first and foremost.”

NZ will be without Devon Conway (thumb) and Will O’Rourke (hamstring) for the second Test.

Uncapped quick Ben Sears has been called up, but a farewell outing for retired paceman Neil Wagner has already been ruled out.