The distance between a batsman and a bowler can be the scariest 22 yards in sport – just ask the likes of Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Smith.
Australia’s resurgence as a world power in cricket has been swift, ruthless and dangerous. Even with protection, batsmen have been reminded what bodyline was all about, as Australia has brought fear back to the game.
The figurehead has been Mitchell Johnson. Every good movie needs a leading man and the script he has followed has seen him succeed with brilliance.
The support cast has been just as good in David Warner, Steve Smith, Brad Haddin, Chris Rogers, Ryan Harris and the leader of it all Michael Clarke, who has gained respect from his greatest doubters.
For England and South Africa, their own leading men have fallen in the wake of the Aussie terror.
The 5-0 Ashes dismantling will be felt by England for years to come. However the on-field results were merely the subscript to the drama that occurred off-field.
The retirement of Swann after the Perth Test made people question his character. A man who had given his all for his country was labelled weak and not a team player. Jumping ship when his team needed him most was a mark against his name.
Pietersen, for all his brilliance, has always had questions marks about where he stood in relation to the team. It was the team that ended an illustrious career.
For Jonathan Trott, the terror of Mitchell Johnson saw him take leave away from the game.
For so long, the 22 yards between bowler and he was a place of happiness and comfort. Since Johnson’s return to Test cricket, it became a nightmare that was too much to handle.
Captain Alastair Cook, who had a poor series compared to his last series in Australia, was targeted by Australia’s bowlers. The old theory of cutting the team off at the head applied and was executed to perfection.
Move ahead a month and Australia’s barrage of cricket has seen another two fall by the wayside.
South African captain Graeme Smith decided he would retire from Test cricket. The South African captain has considered the decision since ankle surgery last April, however with 42 runs in the current series, he also fell victim to Australia’s ruthless targeting of the opposition captain.
The biggest victim hasn’t played a game, as South African legend Jacques Kallis decided to retire before the series.
The decision does not affect his place or standing in the game. However with Mitchell Johnson dismantling England’s batsmen, the threat was that his illustrious Test career could end the same way.
It is this reason that makes Test cricket the best form of the game. There are no limitations. Bowlers can place fielders anywhere, bowl as many overs as they want, and the threat of shortpitched bowling is very real.
Australia’s resurgence as a Test team shows that fear has returned to the game. In an era where pitches have been flat and boundaries the size of suburban grounds, Johnson has changed this.
There is always the fear of failure, but when fear is from an opposition player, you are questioned. Your technique is examined; your mental strength and courage are put under the microscope and your will for the contest is tested.
Michael Clarke survived his litmus test against Morne Morkel. He wore bruises as badges of honour, taking blow after blow, but survived to craft his best Test century.
It was an examination of a batsman, a captain and a leader. The outcome will most likely result in a Test victory and a series win.
In just four months, Test cricket once again has a figure of such dominance, it reminds us why this is the greatest contest between men.
When there is nowhere to hide, it brings out the best in the very best. In terms of opponent’s careers, Australia and Mitchell Johnson have proved that speed really does kill.