A cautious “Welcome Back Mitch”

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Mitchell Johnson (AAP)

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Earlier this year I farewelled Mitchell Johnson. I realise it’s very ungracious of me to say this but I was hoping he wouldn’t return.

It’s not that I don’t like the guy. He appears to be a lovely chap: he’s not a sledger and he’s quick to enquire after batsmen who have had their bones shattered by him.

It’s not that he defied my prediction, or because I’m slightly miffed that a bloke with a goofy smile and the nickname of “Chomps” has women chasing him into nightclub toilets.

And it’s not like the 2009 ICC Cricketer of the Year can’t play…extremely well. He has just passed fellow slinger Jeff Thomson’s 200 Test wickets and his bowling average is comparable to those of  James Anderson and Morne Morkel.

He also has a decent batting average of 23 which has been accrued with some style: scoring the highest number of runs in an over by an Australian, and once belting Dale Steyn for six to bring up a century.

No, the reason I didn’t want Mitchell Guy Johnson to return is because of what he does when he isn’t playing extremely well i.e. playing extraordinarily badly.

When he wasn’t on song he was lucky to get the ball on the pitch. He could do to a cricket ball what a sprinkler does to water, and that mechanised run up of his made it all the more annoying.

As the openers picked him off and gained easy momentum Johnson didn’t appear to care – though I’m sure he did – or know what was wrong. Like most naturally gifted sportspeople, when asked about their poor form, Johnson would say he believed in his ability and just had to “work hard”.

There were many theories on the cause of his waywardness such as the difficult-to-control slinging action, the position of his wrist, the length of his run up, the excessive time spent on fashion shoots, his mental fragility, and a dearth of bowlers capable of threatening his position in the national team.

When he broke down at the end of the South African tour it all seemed academic. Other seasoned bowlers had surpassed him and at least three future stars had appeared.

However, twelve months on Johnson finds himself back in the team thanks partly to some good Sheffield Shield performances but mainly to a rotation policy and an unbelievably long injury list (by the way, where has Ryan Harris got to?).

After two appearances he has 12 wickets, a 92 not out and a man of the match award.

Now again, Johnson has put his apparent improvement down to believing in himself, working hard (without telling us what it was he worked hard on) and being mentally and physically refreshed. It could also be the maturity gained from becoming a father, or finally having to fight for a position on the team.

Whatever the reason, there is no denying that an in form Johnson is a potent addition to Australia’s armoury.

It pains me to say it but: “Welcome back Mitch!”

PS  You better not be up to your old tricks.

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