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Mitchell Johnson – The big question

Mitchell Johnson will continue to be a gamble unless he becomes consistent.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Published: December 1, 2013 9:31:28 pm

It was much like the 1970s when Aussie fans used to have their favourite credo,“Ashes to ashes,dust to dust,if Lillee doesn’t get you,Thommo must”. This time,however,it was only Mitchell Johnson who steamed in with four slips,a fly slip,two leg slips,a silly point and a short leg. England blinked with “scared eyes”.

Stump mic picked Michael Clarke’s warning to Jimmy Anderson about the possibilities of a broken arm. George Bailey went one step further and talked about a broken hand. The Aussie swagger was back and so was the sledging. They were back to the winning ways against England after prolonged sufferings. Johnson made that possible.

A match haul of nine for 103 (a five-for in the second innings) in the first Test and very important contributions with the bat,especially in the first innings (64),made the choice for Man of the Match a formality. Still,it would be a little too premature to talk about redemption. Johnson will continue to be a gamble unless he becomes consistent.

Basically,there’s no middle ground with this 32-year-old left-arm quick. Either he’s devastating or is awfully leaky,depending on how the radar is working. And the radar recently had gone a bit haywire.

Johnson can cause physical harm with his thunderbolts when he’s going full tilt. South Africa Test captain Graeme Smith knows that well.

During the 2008-09 series in Australia,he suffered a broken hand after being hit by a Johnson ripper. In the return series in South Africa,as Smith came back from the injury lay-off,Johnson broke his finger.

Jonathan Trott will agree that Johnson can do grave mental damage as well. Bounced out at The Gabba and then stressed out of the series,the England batsman’s international career is now in jeopardy and the whole event (verbals are incidental here) has visibly rattled the Poms. They will lose the urn if Johnson doesn’t lose his form. But there lies the big question,and once again,it’s a question about the fast bowler’s consistency.

The first couple of years had been phenomenal. Johnson burst on to the Test scene in 2007 and just two years later,bagged the International Cricket Council’s Cricketer of the Year Award. But things started to go downhill after that. He lost his place in the Australian team,lost his love for cricket and was on the verge of quitting the game.

Former Australia swing bowler Terry Alderman mother-henned him during that period. Dennis Lillee also did his bit of mentoring,and a revitalised Johnson returned to Test cricket with renewed hope. But a toe injury in 2012 once again hampered his progress. A tally of 214 wickets in 52 Tests is still very impressive,but someone of Johnson’s talent should have had a lot more. Also,the average,30.11,is on the higher side and suggests inconsistency.

Coming into the Brisbane Test,Johnson was not the first choice. In fact,injuries to James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc forced the selectors’ hands. It was a big risk because Johnson was undercooked as he didn’t play Test cricket after March. Johnson played just one Test during Australia’s tour of India earlier this year and was one of the players to be caught in the ‘homework gate’. He was subsequently dropped for the Ashes in England and his return to the Test XI this time was purely based on his recent one-day international (ODI) form.

Yet,in the limited-overs series in England and India he gave an impression that he was trying to make up for lost time. Still,it was a big call for Australian selectors to bring him back to the Test fold,given his fitness record and inconsistency. And also the fact that his new-ball partner Ryan Harris is older than him and equally prone to breaking down at any stage.

Australia have played 73 Tests since Johnson made his debut in November 2007 and he has featured in 52 of them. Injury,more importantly inconsistency,felled him. Picking Johnson could have bordered on ludicrous if the move wouldn’t have come off.

Australia,however,had to take a bold call and it turned out to be beautiful. Australia’s bowling coach Craig McDermott believes that his enigmatic ward will learn from his past mistakes and will continue with the good work. According to him,Johnson is now mentally stronger. “He (Johnson) seems to be a lot more together mentally. I think the 12 months he spent out of the game are probably the best 12 months he has spent. It allowed him to spend some time on the technical things as well. He’s as good as I’ve seen him—the pace that he’s bowling and his accuracy were very good in the Test match,” McDermott was quoted as saying by the ABC Grandstand.

Australia will hope that their lethal weapon doesn’t lose his cutting edge.

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