During the 4-0 drubbing that India handed out to Australia earlier this year,Mithchell Johnson played just one Test. Looking lost and listless in that final game at the Kotla,Johnson went home wicketless. Seven months later,he resurfaced on the Test arena during the return Ashes leg. Here,he was a changed man.
Johnson 2.0 had a mean look (a Lillee like handlebar stache) that went perfectly with his intimidating bowling. With 17 wickets from the first two Ashes Tests,courtesy his fast and furious bowling,he has instilled fear in the mind of the batsmen. With the final Test to be played on the notoriously lively WACA pitch,this MJ gig is far from over.
So how did Johnson turn the tide? Interestingly,it was during his long and hard grind playing the games shorter format on dead Indian tracks,against the biggest hitters in the sport no less,that the left-arm pacer found his old self.
The high priest of pace bowling,Wasim Akram,has long insisted that the only way to increase ones pace is to bowl as much as possible. Kicked out of the Test team,Johnson had missed the away Ashes,leaving him with nothing but T20s and ODIs to concentrate on. He played an entire season of the IPL and helped Mumbai Indians win their first title and later helped them bring home the Champions League crown too. After that he played Australias ODI series in India.
It was here where his rhythm and fitness returned. And with that came pace. In small bursts he would give it all. It was this back-breaking workout that helped the Queen slander in the long run. The compulsions of the format meant that there was no margin for error.
Johnson seemed to have cracked the T20 code for bowlers by pitching the ball with precision. This,at 90 mph. Occasionally,he has tried to lop heads off too. But he is no longer erratic like in the past. Now,finally at 32,Johnson is a thinking bowler. His natural slingy action and that near-perfect rock back approach at the crease has made him what Lillee famously said about him ‘a once in a generation cricketer’.
Both at Brisbane and Adelaide,the Aussie think-tank let Johnson loose on the English in short spells. Most times he got to bowl four overs at a stretch,with the clear instruction of empyting his energy. And after a bit of breathing space,same thing. Full tilt for another four-over burst.
So that is how he did it. For Johnson,Test bowling is nothing but a combination of several T20 games.
(Siddhartha is a senior correspondent based in New Delhi)