Cricket: Mitchell Johnson: the man with the venom

Mitchell Johnson celebrates 9 wickets at the Gabba (source: ESPN Cricinfo/Getty Images)
Mitchell Johnson celebrates 9 wickets at the Gabba (source: ESPN Cricinfo/Getty Images)

(A focus on his test career)

The touring English fan base, the Barmy Army, have a saying for Australia’s left arm quick, Mitchell Johnson.  Here it is:

“He bowls to the left…
He bowls to the rightttttttt
That Mitchell Johnson
His bowling is shite!”

In some cases, those words have proved accurate.  However, the story at the Gabba last week could only mean one thing; Johnson the destroyer was back in a big way.

Work ethic for Johnson has rarely been questioned.  He is quick, intimidates batsmen, and when his side needs a wicket, he delivers.

Johnson’s pathway from Queensland to Western Australia in 2008 may have just been the new lease of life the fast bowler needed.  Revelling on rapid, bouncy wickets, the only thing that lets Johnson down from time to time is the erratic spells.

The key weapon for Johnson is combining his frightening pace and swing.  England was rattled at the Gabba when he got the ball moving.

If there was ever a time to really show his stripes, it is now.  Ruthless spells of bowling can sometimes be peppered with wides and expensive spells.  However, the last 12 months have spoken volumes about where Johnson is at the moment.

“I have performed well for the last 12 months, it was just about getting an opportunity,” said Johnson.

“I was nervous on day one but once I got past those nerves I was fine.”

With a test century to his name against South Africa in South Africa, there is almost little doubt that Johnson is close to, if not the complete package.  Although he has only played five tests across 2012 and 2013*, he has still picked up 24 wickets at an average of 20.33.

Mindset becomes important when playing five-day cricket, and vice captain Brad Haddin said he noticed the change in speed behind the stumps at the Gabba.

”Over in India he was hitting 154km/h and it actually felt quicker than that here, or at least as quick as that,” Haddin said on Monday. ”It’s as good and as fast as I’ve seen him since I played with him 18 months ago.”

Speaking after the first test, Haddin is well placed to comment on just how fast – and in a way, how far – Johnson has come in the last 18 months.

During 2009, a fluctuating run of form saw Johnson face his biggest test.  The mantle of leading the Australian bowling attack had a big effect, and the 2009 Ashes series was the unravelling of the dynamo.

Confidence began to ebb, and despite 20 wickets in the series, the zip and swing that made batsmen fear Johnson wavered.  One test would be a glorious and superb masterstroke of skill and wearing down of the batsmen; the next the wickets dried up and the runs leaked.

Where Johnson is at now

Have a look at the way Johnson is bowling, and it is almost immediately obvious his passion to play has returned.  The work to show himself as a reliable and unfailing cricketer has meant there has been mountains to climb, but at 32, there is still plenty of time to make an impact.

Australian coach Darren Lehmann acknowledged just how much of a game-changer Johnson was in Brisbane:

“Mitchell Johnson has his confidence back and he was the difference here – first with the bat, then he blew the game away with the ball on day two.”

Whichever path Johnson may choose, it is ultimately up to him to ensure he stays one of Australia’s first-choice bowlers.

*stats source: ESPN Cricinfo


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