London, June 26: England were undone by the leader of a pace attack for the second time in the space of four days as their World Cup semi-final hopes suffered a further blow at Lord's. However, rather than it being one in the twilight of his career, it was a bowler at the peak of his powers.
Lasith Malinga's performance in Sri Lanka's stunning win at Headingley on Friday (June 21) felt like a parting gift from a player heading for international retirement. Starc's showing, in which he joined Malinga in helping prevent England chase down a sub-300 total, was more of an ominous message to those hoping to dethrone Australia as world champions.
Those rivals did not need a reminder of Starc's pedigree as the best fast bowler on the planet, but he delivered one anyway.
Jason Behrendorff will take plenty of acclaim with a five-wicket haul, while there is also sure to be significant rumination over the decision-making of England's batsmen when chasing such a modest score, with Jonny Bairstow, Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler dismissed via questionable shots.
Yet there can be no doubt of the quality of Starc's pivotal 4-43. An inswinging length ball did for Joe Root and, though his dismissal of Morgan came as a result of a rash shot, it is the glorious way in which he ended Ben Stokes' brave resistance that will live long in the memory.
Stokes was gaining steam towards a century and serving as the glue holding together an unlikely England fightback from 53-4 in pursuit of 286. The all-rounder had been growing increasingly emphatic in his treatment of the other members of the Australia attack but there was nothing he could about the ball that ended his stay 11 runs shy of a first ODI hundred since June 2017.
Starc produced a superb yorker that swung into the base of the off stump and left Stokes kicking his bat in frustration. Afterwards, though, he seemed to accept it was a delivery he could do little about.
"It was a good ball, yeah," Stokes told reporters. "Ninety miles per hour reverse-swing yorker," he added with a nervous smile.
1️⃣ Mitchell Starc 🇦🇺19 wickets— Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) June 25, 2019
2️⃣ Jofra Archer 🏴 16 wickets
3️⃣ Mohammad Amir 🇵🇰 15 wickets
4️⃣ Lockie Ferguson 🇳🇿 14 wickets
5️⃣ Mark Wood 🏴 13 wickets
Mitchell Starc returns to top of the #CWC19 wicket-taking pile 🔥 #CWC19 pic.twitter.com/nlHNJToawY
Nervous would be an understandable emotion for England and the other contenders to be feeling with Starc in this kind of form.
"I'm in a really good place, physically, mentally and with my cricket and just loving being part of this group and contributing to the group as well," Starc said.
"There's going to be times where it doesn't go too well but I'm playing cricket for Australia with a group of great guys so life's not too bad."
To say life's not too bad may be putting it mildly. After being named player of the tournament in the last World Cup, Starc is now the leading wicket-taker in this one with 19 and has a sensational average of just 21.07 in ODI cricket.
And, worryingly for everyone else, Starc believes he and Australia are capable of even more as they look ahead to the semi-finals with their last-four spot already sewn up.
"I said before, it's a great feeling amongst the group," Starc added. "It's been a lot of fun at the last World Cup and again in this World Cup to have a group with a lot of smiles on their faces.
"We're playing some really good cricket but we're still searching for that complete performance. We're building nicely for the back end."
Few could argue with that assessment and, with Starc firing, many may be reconsidering England's status as tournament favourites and attaching that moniker to Australia instead.
This World Cup was supposed to be the one where the top-ranked ODI side completed a journey to their first 50-over world title. However, thanks to Starc and a bowling unit now with added depth through the inclusion of Behrendorff, their Ashes rivals are threatening to tear up the script.