Rise and fall of Mitchell Johnson
I’m just going to come out and say it: I am and probably will forever be an unabashed Mitchell Johnson fan.
Please, put down your pitch forks and turn those torches elsewhere; it’s not like I want him anywhere near Australian colours as Cummins, Pattison, Starc and the unheralded Coulter Nile are surely the future, but like a teenaged girl may fall for those big dark eyes and bad boy tattoo, I too have been forever seduced by the enigmatic inswinger, the vicious bouncer.
It’s in the same way that pretty girl from Starbucks flirts and draws love hearts on the cup of my regular cappucino, I know she’s really going home with the guy on the motorbike, and I know five more wides are only a few overs away.
As a child of Australian dominance, Johnson was one of the few youngsters whose career I could follow from the start. I remember the early days; all promise, he came with the blessings of the mustachioed Zeus Lillee, Johnson his appointed Hercules.
He was a wild colt from the harsh north, one of crickets rare breeds, a left armer with enough pace to scare batsmen. The 10 overs of a one day international bridled my young star, I yearned for the day he would steam in with four slips and a gully, released from the shackles of field restrictions and powerplays.
It would come eventually, ironically it was the retirement of the metronomic McGrath that would see my wild thing released. The start was steady, series against Sri Lanka and India came and went, tail end wickets and the occasional lower order bash, it was a steady beginning.
It would take a world series bout, a clash of the titans for my giant to awake from his slumber, and when he emerged it seemed nothing could match. It was a young, cocky South Africa that arrived in 2008.
McGrath, Warne and Gilchrist were gone and behind their own champion, Steyn, the Proteas seemed poised to finally take the mantle. Johnson, though, met the challenge. 8/61 will always be remembered, swerving yorkers, brutal bouncers, fading light and Bouchers stumps destroyed, he was simply unplayable.
The Saffers would win on Australian soil but our new champion couldn’t live with that. Across the seas our hero would venture, he wasn’t alone now, followed by a young country boy Hughes, and a wise man from the west, North, the pursuit was on.
Hughes slashed and North supported but it was Johnson who seemingly revived Australian cricket. He cracked Kallis’ helmet, he destroyed Smith’s hand, he swung the ball viciously and if he didn’t, he fooled them into thinking he would, over 2008/09 the cricketing world bowed to our colt from the bush, our Mitchy.
Just like all tragedies, though, those blessed with the curse of potential fall the hardest. He was destroyed in England, the swing was gone, the head was now shaved and brow furrowed, the mental fragility was seen for the first time. KP cut and flicked him, even Bell, tormented himself by Warne took it out on my colt.
The aura was gone, the batsmen were no longer troubled (the same can’t be said for the wicketkeeper, though). It wasn’t a few bad games, or a bad series, or a bad year, it was the beginning of the end, a slow, cruel death. Slowly he lost the new ball, then status as spearhead, then guaranteed spot in the XI.
The flirting would continue, talk of a remodeled action and a destructive 6/38 in Perth, but it was always back to the new, gelded Mitch. India, even Sri Lanka began to take their fill, and the first star I had seen born was slowly exploding, all too soon.
As I type Johnson swings one back into Bopara and has an LBW decision turned down, this after delivering four no balls so far in his five overs. That sums up Johnsons’ career far better then I ever could.