Mitchell Johnson turned 30 on Wednesday. Speaking from experience, most men use this milestone to question what they have achieved in their life thus far.
At 30, you would have to say that Mitch is a bowler who has not yet reached his potential. Or perhaps he has?
In which case, it’s time for him to make way for a true strike bowler to lead our attack. Johnson will be feeling nervous by the inclusion of Pat Cummins in the Test squad.
Cummins has talisman written all over him, a tag that has never sat comfortably with Johnson.
The good news is Johnson has started the tour of South Africa very well, with figures of 4/38 and 2/41 (in progress) in the tour game at Potchefstroom. Just as well: Johnson needs another career-saving tour in South Africa.
Mitch has talent, there is no doubt about it. Any left-armer who can consistently bowl at over 145 kmph is going to be dangerous.
But Johnson is not a natural swinger of the ball. The conundrum that Johnson has found himself in is that when he bowls fast and swings it – he tends to spray it around.
But when he bowls with control, he becomes very predictable out of the hand – almost like a bowling machine. In the last few Test series he has bowled fast and straight, but has not looked like taking a bag of wickets.
Unlike some players, whose technique seems to flow from their soul, Johnson looks like a good athlete whose bowling technique has been trained into him – almost mechanical or robotic.
He was a late adopter of cricket (having played more tennis in his youth) and it shows. He seems to bring a heavy mind to the bowling crease – weighed down by all the things the bowling coaches have hammered into him over the years.
Like returning to the nightclub where you had your first kiss – there is nothing like returning to the scene of a previous triumph to get the mojo flowing.
Johnson’s best ever Test series was last time Australia toured South Africa in 2009. In that series, Johnson managed to harness the holy trinity of bowling: pace, swing and accuracy.
With its combination of bouncy pitches and swing friendly conditions – this tour of South Africa provides Johnson with his last chance to right the ship.
His overall Test average of around 30 is good, but his recent form is not. In the recent Test series in Sri Lanka – he did not take more than two wickets in an innings.
If Australia is to climb back to the top of the world rankings, it needs Johnson to be firing. The thought of having a left/right combination (he and Cummins) both bowling over 150kmph is a mouth-watering one.
Johnson has also stopped bowling it to second slip – which is encouraging. There comes a time in every player’s career where he must stand up or be stood down.
Despite having been floored by stress fractures of the back early in his career, you get the feeling, the muscle Johnson finds hardest to control is between his ears.
Unlike most fast bowlers, the shy Johnson actually needed to be encouraged to become more confrontational out in the middle. He needs to continue to use controlled aggression.
Dennis Lillee discovered Johnson as a high-potential 17-year old. 13 years and 45 Tests later, he still has a lot to prove.
This series provides the perfect platform to silence his doubters.