Mitchell Johnson – Test cricket’s MVP

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

By Glenn Mitchell, Glenn Mitchell is a Roar Expert

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    In the space four months Mitchell Johnson has gone from a derisive selection in the Australian Test team to the most valuable player in the longest form of the sport.

    In the space of six Test matches he has been the major catalyst in Australia’s cricketing resurgence, claiming man-of-the-match honours in four of those encounters.

    Having just completed his 57th Test he now boasts 254 wickets at 27.5, having gone past Graham McKenzie (246) and Richie Benaud (248) at Centurion to sit seventh overall in Australia’s list of leading Test wicket-takers.

    Anyone who thought Johnson’s demolition of England on home soil – 37 wickets at 14.0 – was a one-off, need think again.

    On a relatively benign pitch at Centurion he returned career-best figures of 12-127 as he cut a swathe through the number one ranked side in the world.

    There is no doubting that in his current form – 49 wickets at 13.1 in his last six Tests – Johnson is currently the premier bowler in the sport.

    Few in history can boast such devastation over such a short period.

    And it is not just the number in the wicket column that has been the barometer of his performance.

    Johnson has intimidated and he has done it as well as any fast bowler in the history of the game.

    The first Test in South Africa is testament to that.

    Early in Hashim Amla’s knock in the Proteas’ second innings Johnson hit him flush on the grill of his helmet while he curtailed play for five minutes on the cusp of tea on the fourth day when another bouncer clattered into Ryan McLaren’s helmet opening up a wound behind his right ear.

    The psychological blows landed by Johnson at Centurion will be difficult for South Africa’s batsmen to erase from their minds before they have to butter up again at St George’s Park.

    At times in the past half a dozen Test matches Johnson has appeared to be as modern-day Gulliver against a Lilliputian XI.

    His constant menace has caused havoc with batsmen’s technique and shot selection.

    His all-out onslaught has been backed up by some sensational fielding that has produced at times dismissals that simply make you shake your head.

    If there is one batsman above any other in the South African line-up who knows full well the physical damage that the broad-shouldered quick can wreak it is the skipper, Graeme Smith.

    In the space of three Tests in early 2009 – Sydney and Durban – Johnson twice broke Smith’s fingers with spiteful spitting deliveries.

    In that Durban Test he forced Jacques Kallis to retire hurt having struck him a sickening blow on the helmet – it was one of the few times the champion all-rounder was struck in the head in his long and illustrious career.

    Once renowned for his scattergun approach which often saw overs sprinkled with wide deliveries either side of the stumps, Johnson has now become a far more controlled and heady bowler.

    One of the recent additions to his armoury has been the regular switch from over to around the wicket and back again.

    The change of angle and the alterations needed to his approach and follow-through each time he changes sides has not seen any dilution in his ability to hit the right spots.

    Over the space of the recent five-Test Ashes series is was evident that the initial onslaught that Johnson wreaked upon England’s batsmen in the opening encounter at Brisbane played havoc with their minds for the remainder of the series, so much so in fact, that at times they resembled rabbits trapped in the glare of a vehicle’s headlights.

    This current series is shorter – just three matches – and having sustained a massive 281-run loss first-up South Africa has to find a way of blunting Johnson’s dominance prior to the next Test at Port Elizabeth which starts on Thursday.

    Failure to come up with an effective plan will likely see the Proteas lose their first series in 15 starts.

    Of course it is one thing to formulate a plan, another to put it into action.

    There is no doubt that Smith and the Proteas’ brains trust would have been paying close attention to the Ashes series so it was not as if they were not forewarned of the challenge that was about to confront them.

    Yet, despite that warning and sufficient time to work on the technical and mental requirements needed to nullify Johnson when it came to the crunch they impersonated lemmings much as England’s batsmen had.

    Johnson has been ably supported by Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon this southern summer but that trio have been very much a support act.

    Johnson entered the Australian summer outside the top-30 ranked bowlers in Test cricket.

    He went into the Test at Centurion at number nine and will surge into the top-five if his form holds through the next two Tests in the Republic.

    The South African pair of Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn may well be ranked number one and two respectively at present but over the past four months Johnson has out-bowled them and by a considerable margin.

    Michael Clarke has at his disposal a one-man weapon of mass destruction.

    Johnson has broken bats, stumps and hearts in recent months and it shows no signs of abating as cyclone Mitch heads in a south-westerly direction to Port Elizabeth.

    The locals had better batten down the hatches.

    Glenn Mitchell
    Glenn Mitchell

    After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.

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    The Crowd Says (74)

    • February 16th 2014 @ 7:18am
      Avon River said | February 16th 2014 @ 7:18am | ! Report

      Key is he no longer leaks runs and kills the pressure squeeze.
      Still to think back to his first 3 overs at Brisbane and the collective sigh and thoughts of “here we go again” – what then was the key to turning it around?

      I suspect positive support and solid plans from coaches as well as bowling partners who adhere beautifully to those plans.
      I credit Johnson on finally mastering his game and now the previously all too common loose balls are a rarity.

      • February 16th 2014 @ 9:31am
        Howzat said | February 16th 2014 @ 9:31am | ! Report

        For mine Johnson is the “canary in the coal mine” of Australian Cricket. When the test team has a good set up he thrives.

      • February 16th 2014 @ 11:30am
        AlanKC said | February 16th 2014 @ 11:30am | ! Report

        Johnson spent considerable time and effort sorting himself out away from cricket, he gives much credit to the time spent with Ben Roberts-Smith (the VC winner) and to his wife.

        By all means give credit to his coaches but take nothing away from Johnson, he’s the one who’s done it.

        • February 16th 2014 @ 2:29pm
          Howzat said | February 16th 2014 @ 2:29pm | ! Report

          Yep there are a lot of factors involved. But it wasn’t so long ago that he was being stood down in India for not doing his homework

    • Roar Guru

      February 16th 2014 @ 7:43am
      Tim Holt said | February 16th 2014 @ 7:43am | ! Report

      Jono’s re-rise to prominence is comparable to Kingston Town coming back from being written off to win the 82 Cox Plate

      And Cricket is the winner for in every regard he is compelling

    • February 16th 2014 @ 7:45am
      Internal Fixation said | February 16th 2014 @ 7:45am | ! Report

      Don’t diminish the role of Harris, Siddle and Lyon. They build constant pressure whilst Johnson can launch missiles from the other end. He is in brilliant form and is the key to our resurgence but it’s a bowling pack mentality that McDermott and Lehmann have instilled that has also been vital.

      • February 16th 2014 @ 10:17am
        fadida said | February 16th 2014 @ 10:17am | ! Report

        agree. Among the (deserved) Johnson love-in the back-up has been exceptional

      • February 16th 2014 @ 12:57pm
        Aussie Opener said | February 16th 2014 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

        Don’t think you can give enough credit to Johnson actually. Without him in the side , we may not have won the ashes and we more than likely would not have won this match. “Keeping it tight” is well and good, but someone has to take the wickets.

        • February 16th 2014 @ 2:26pm
          Peter said | February 16th 2014 @ 2:26pm | ! Report

          I agree. He deserves all the praise he gets and some. The team have picked up their performances because of Mitch. Many, including me, are being made to look foolish for doubting his selection at the start of the Ashes.

        • February 16th 2014 @ 3:19pm
          Anfalicious said | February 16th 2014 @ 3:19pm | ! Report

          I think the point is though that if you had guys leaking runs at the other end then it’d just be a matter of weathering Mitch’s overs and scoring at the other end. With the other three keeping tight batsmen can’t just play defensively to Johnson or there will be no runs. It’s all about building pressure and causing frustration.

          • February 16th 2014 @ 3:59pm
            Aussie Opener said | February 16th 2014 @ 3:59pm | ! Report

            Yep, pressure is certainly A key, but if test match bowlers “leak” too many runs and not take many wickets, they won’t be test match bowlers for long. But yes, everyone is playing their role. Lyon for me has been fantastic. I think he has definitely sown up the spinners spot, which also has stabilised the attack.

          • Roar Guru

            February 17th 2014 @ 9:08am
            Chris Kettlewell said | February 17th 2014 @ 9:08am | ! Report

            Definitely is true. The fact is that Harris and Siddle are both in the top 5 ranked bowlers in World Cricket at the moment, and Lyon is rapidly turning into a very high quality spinner. If they do manage to withstand Johnson, they don’t get any let-up with Harris, Siddle and Lyon. And those guys bowling so well allows Clarke to just unleash Johnson in short sharp bursts to destroy the batting lineup.

            Michael Clarke’s comments on his belief that he had the best bowling lineup in the world at his disposal don’t look so stupid now do they!

    • February 16th 2014 @ 7:53am
      Andrew said | February 16th 2014 @ 7:53am | ! Report

      Congrats MJ well played. Keep up the fantastic bowling! Back to back 5 fors as well as 12 for the match against the best attack in the world is a mighty effort. With MJ bowling like this, surely the Aussies must be closing on being number 1.

    • Roar Rookie

      February 16th 2014 @ 8:21am
      Passionate_Aussie said | February 16th 2014 @ 8:21am | ! Report

      I’d love to know who Johnson loves to bowl at more, England or South Africa?

      Vs England: matches 14, 72 wickets, 5 5w hauls, best 7/40, average 23.92, S/r 40,61
      Vs SthAfrica: matches 10, 54 wickets, 3 5w hauls, 2 10w hauls, best 8/61, average 25.67, S/r 48.44

    • February 16th 2014 @ 8:21am
      Hilly said | February 16th 2014 @ 8:21am | ! Report

      That ball to Amla was an absolute cracker.
      If not for the grill it would have killed him.

      • February 16th 2014 @ 10:21am
        Sideline Comm. said | February 16th 2014 @ 10:21am | ! Report

        I know, it certainly rattled him. That would have rearranged his face something fierce.

      • February 16th 2014 @ 11:11am
        Gremlins said | February 16th 2014 @ 11:11am | ! Report

        Maybe we need to stop condemning the Poms for the Bodyline Series. I can’t see any real difference, except for the quality (and quantity) of modern protective gear.

        • February 16th 2014 @ 11:33am
          AlanKC said | February 16th 2014 @ 11:33am | ! Report

          1) All the other quicks bowling the same stuff;
          2) The number of fieldsmen behind square leg;
          3) The number of short balls being bowled per over.

          • February 16th 2014 @ 3:21pm
            Anfalicious said | February 16th 2014 @ 3:21pm | ! Report

            Yep body line was as much about field setting as the bowling.

            • Roar Guru

              February 16th 2014 @ 5:52pm
              Jack Smith said | February 16th 2014 @ 5:52pm | ! Report

              Also saw a documentary though that worked out through sports science and tech that that bowler, Harold Larwood, bowled between 140-150 km and players had no helmet.

        • Columnist

          February 16th 2014 @ 4:14pm
          Glenn Mitchell said | February 16th 2014 @ 4:14pm | ! Report

          Gremlins, there is no comparison to what Johnson is doing and Bodyline. At most, MJ has two men in short on leg side. Jardine had as many as five. Thankfully the laws no longer permit the number of men behind square leg as was the case in 1931-32.

          • February 17th 2014 @ 8:40am
            ChrisB said | February 17th 2014 @ 8:40am | ! Report

            While there is a lot of truth in this, I can’t help but recall Jack Fingleton’s reflections years after the event (in David Friths book, I think” where he said “I think We Australians made to much of Bodyline”
            I think some of it was disbelief that the “home country” could be so perfidious…..

      • February 16th 2014 @ 11:19am
        gbrown2 said | February 16th 2014 @ 11:19am | ! Report

        hello hilly how old are you
        it didn’t kill any of us just another thing I ponder about

      • Roar Pro

        February 16th 2014 @ 10:03pm
        Luke Smyke said | February 16th 2014 @ 10:03pm | ! Report

        Wasn’t exactly an innocuous off break sliding down leg side that you dream of welcoming you to the crease was it!

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