Clarke defence hoses down Warnie
Former Australian skipper Michael Clarke has leapt to the defence of under-fire quick Mitchell Starc after the left-armer's lacklustre season with the ball turned him into the whipping posts of a swath of commentators.
Shane Warne took aim at the 28-year-old as the spotlight shifted from him to youngster Pat Cummins during the Indian tour. The former leg-spinner was adamant it was time for Starc to be demoted to third seamer and let Cummins take the new ball, claiming it was "the worst I have seen him bowl".
Starc took just 15 wickets in the first five Tests of the Australian summer but came back with a tidy 10-wicket haul in Canberra to clean up a below strength Sri Lankan side.
"Starc's form is getting worse and worse. I've alluded to the fact over the past 12 months that his numbers have been very ordinary, especially against the top six batsmen," Warne said ahead of the final Test.
But Clarke, who used Starc to great effect in his time as Australian captain, insists the doubters are barking up the wrong tree in calling for the left-armer's axing, suggesting another purple patch for the Sydney product was around the corner.
"I think Starc's a superstar," Clarke stressed in an interview with Fox Sports. "He wasn't at his best (this summer) but he offers the team so much. I still he's got to be one of your first picked bowlers. I still think he's got to open the bowling and is good enough to play all three forms of the game.
"He's a star in my opinion. We all have rough periods where you don't score as many runs as you'd like or it's not coming out of the hand perfectly."
Clarke also threw his weight behind struggling No. 3 Usman Khawaja, who has also faced a litany of criticism after his disappointing red ball season.
Warne, on the other hand, would rather see Cameron Bancroft return to the top of the order and current opener Marcus Harris slot into first drop over Khawaja for the Ashes.
"He's got a little Brian Lara in him," Clarke stressed. "He's got all the shots ... I love watching Usman play. And again, I think he's just had a tough summer. Don't forget what was happening off the field with Uzzie and his family, that couldn't have been easy."
"Everything off the field affects you. How you deal with it is dictated by the individual but it does play a part. Even if it's your subconscious thinking about friends or family going through a tough time, there's some part of that mind that's not concentrating on the cricket.
"I think he's talented enough to play all three formats for Australia. I think he should be in our Test team and I think he's pushing hard for that one-day position as well. So I'd like to keep the faith with Uzzie as well. I think he can go to England and score a lot of runs for us in the Ashes series."
Cummins, the newly crowned Allan Border medallist, became the first Australian bowler to top the ICC Test bowling rankings in 13 years.
Cummins' rating of 878 in the latest rankings put him ahead of veteran Englishman James Anderson, who slightly improved hisrating from 860 to 862. Kasigo Rabada dropped 33 ratings points to 849 to slide from first to third after he collected 3-145 in South Africa's one-wicket loss to Sri Lanka in the first Test in Durban.
The last Australian to be the highest-ranked Test bowler was Glenn McGrath in 2006, while Mitchell Johnson climbed to second in March 2009. Cummins' fellow Test pacemen Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc are ranked 12th and 15th respectively.
The Australian trio's next chance to impress at Test level won't come until August, when the Ashes begin in Birmingham.
Offspinner Nathan Lyon is ranked 19th.
- with AAP