'Never doubted there was a role for me'
This time last year, Mitchell Johnson's family and friends were in Melbourne for the Boxing Day Test on a trip that had been planned for some time. The only problem was that Johnson wasn't. This year his family is at home - his wife Jessica and their baby girl Rubika, born less than three weeks ago, are home in Perth - but Johnson is back at the MCG preparing for his fifth Boxing Day Test. And awaiting Johnson is a milestone that few Australians have achieved.
If Johnson can pick up four more wickets, he will join Ray Lindwall, Richie Benaud, Merv Hughes, Shane Warne, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee as the only Australians to have accumulated 1000 runs and 200 wickets in Tests. It might not be the achievement it once was, given the greater number of matches these days, but it still gives an indication of what Johnson has provided for Australia over the past five years.
The fact that the milestone is within his grasp is a credit to Johnson, for this time last year he could have been finished as a Test cricketer. The foot injury that an out-of-form Johnson suffered during the Johannesburg Test last November saved the selectors a decision over his future, for Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc were all emerging, while the more experienced trio of Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus and Ryan Harris remained solid.
But Johnson, 31, has followed the example of his mentor Dennis Lillee, who returned from back injuries later in his career as a smarter bowler, thinking more about his approach and using his quicker bouncers sparingly as a shock weapon. It worked for him in state cricket earlier this summer, and during his comeback Test at the WACA against South Africa, there were few of the terrible deliveries that had given batsmen respite during the previous couple of years.
"I've still got to have that aggressive streak as a fast bowler," Johnson said. "That intimidation does work for me. It's just using it at the right time. I felt like I used it pretty well in Perth. Using that bouncer at the right time has really worked for me, and getting that right length and getting a bit of swing has been key for me this year.
"I was pretty nervous [in Perth]. I probably didn't show it. The first over or so was a little bit nerve-wracking. Playing state cricket you don't get the crowds, you don't get the media, so the pressure is very different. It was quite different out there when I started bowling. You just realise that all these people are watching you again and the media is there and so on."
That Johnson emerged with match figures of 6 for 164 was creditable, and the way he bowled suggested that he can play an ongoing role for the Test team. It won't be as the spearhead, and it won't be in every Test, but if Australia continued rotating the fast men through the side, they will have some confidence that Johnson can be part of that group - and will bring with him the experience of five years of Test cricket.
"I never doubted there was a role there for me, it was just whether I would be getting the opportunity again," he said. "We've got a lot of young, talented players and you're going to have to work your way back, you don't just come back in. I've been working really hard and I've got to keep working hard."
Johnson is expected to play on Boxing Day, though it appears unlikely it will be in concert with his fellow left-armer Mitchell Starc, who might be rested. Johnson and Starc played together at the WACA, and he believes there is no reason a pair of left-armers should be treated any differently at the selection table to a couple of right-arm bowlers.
"I don't see why there's so much talk about it," Johnson said. "The only thing I can think of is it doesn't generally happen in Australian cricket. If you look back at the history there haven't been too many left-arm combinations. But myself and Dougie [Bollinger] have done well and myself and Mitch Starc have done well so far. I don't see any difference in why we can't have two left-armers."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here