Australia v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Melbourne

'Never doubted there was a role for me'

Mitchell Johnson's impressive comeback after a year in Perth showed his value hasn't been lost to Australia

Brydon Coverdale in Melbourne

December 23, 2012

Comments: 20 | Text size: A | A

Mitchell Johnson celebrates a wicket on his return to the Test side, Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, Perth, 1st day, November 30, 2012
The Perth Test was a memorable one for Mitchell Johnson © Getty Images
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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

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Posted by Lermy on (December 25, 2012, 22:32 GMT)

Johnson's problem is not that he bowls too many loose deliveries, its that he bowls them too fast. If he looses 20 kph and gains 20kg, and continues to bowl short and wide, he could be a world beater. It worked for Ian Botham didn't it?

Posted by Jaffa79 on (December 25, 2012, 22:26 GMT)

The fact this guy is anywhere near the Aussie team, shows how very poor this Aussie team have become. How can he get a game after spraying it around for test after test is beyond me. I really hope he gets an Ashes place. He will cop a lot of banter and he has already shown how weak and soft he is when the chips are down. Another Aussie with no heart.

Posted by voma on (December 24, 2012, 15:09 GMT)

Jono Makim , Broad was injured for the last 2 test matches in India . He hasnt been dropped by England , hes on the plane to New Zealand for the ODIs .

Posted by voma on (December 24, 2012, 14:57 GMT)

I hope he gets selected for next years Ashes , that way Alastair Cook will be able to pass Goochies record ! .

Posted by   on (December 24, 2012, 12:32 GMT)

@LillianThomson, I think England looked most dangerous with Finn and Anderson in their attack, their two best quicks. Picking a bowler for their batting doesn't work in my view. I think Bresnan got a duck in the last test. I think if Australia is going to pick a bowling allrounder then it should be O'Keefe. At the moment i'd be picking Siddle, Starc, Lyon, O'Keefe and Watson in my starting xi. Starc's ability to swing the new ball and he's ability to bowl full and straight with the old ball will trouble the Indian batsmen in my view. Johnsons tactic of banging in half trackers to unsettle the batsmen and then hope they play a poor shot to a full delivery, in my opinion, will not work.

Posted by Shaggy076 on (December 24, 2012, 12:26 GMT)

Johnson at his best was a very good bowler, Wisden cricketer of the year. He has the ability and pace to really hurry batsman. He showed that ability in Perth and I believe he can again show that in Melbourne. At his best I would have him, Siddle and Pattinson as our three best bowlers

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (December 24, 2012, 9:48 GMT)

Johnson - He bowls to the left, he bowls to the rriighht...(Please continue Aussie fans - that's if you remember the last Ashes).

Posted by LillianThomson on (December 24, 2012, 9:10 GMT)

@Jono Makim To be fair, Broad was injured and bowling at half-pace.

India went into the last couple of Tests with 1 fast bowler and 3 spinners, while England had 1 fast bowler, 1 medium-paced all-rounder and 2 spinners.

I think that Siddle is an obvious starter for reverse swinging reasons, but after that we have to understand that any second quick bowler in India has to be worth his place with the bat. And to me that means Mitch Johnson ahead of Mitch Starc.

I would point out the roles of Junaid Khan and Aizaz Cheema as Pakistan's second quick bowler early in 2012 when England toured the UAE. They were lucky to get a bowl at all in some completed innings.

Lastly, many of Mitch's past problems mirrored problems beyond his control in his family life. He doesn't seem to always handle that well. But all seems settled currently, and he looked better than Starc at the WACA.

Posted by   on (December 24, 2012, 8:13 GMT)

@Meety, really? That is not good! I hope the J Bird has been for a trim up and looking sharp for Boxing Day.... @Busie, the greatest talent Johnson has is that of natural athleticism, unfortunately he has never developed the bowling skills to go with it. Its not just about the mental aspect, it is also about skill. He will suffer more quickly, mentally, than others because he doesn't have the skill set to fall back on. If the ball or pitch aren't doing anything than he is canon fodder. He knows it and quickly falls apart when things are not going well.... @LillianThomson, Johnson, in India? That isn't going to end well, and your man Broad whom you hold up as a model case was just dropped from the England team.

Posted by LillianThomson on (December 24, 2012, 7:53 GMT)

@Tintaman Not being in the top six fast bowlers might matter if Johnson was a right-armer who bats at number eleven.

But he isn't: he is an out-and-out fast left-armer who averages 20+ with the bat.

That variety is important. Doubly important in India, where Pattinson, Hilfenhaus and other right-arm quicks are going to be irrelevant, apart from Siddle who can reverse the ball on rough surfaces.

Siddle + Johnson + Watson is already probably one quick bowler too many for Indian conditions.

A large part of the value of Stuart Broad is that ability to score runs as well as take wickets, but Johnson has the added value of being both faster and having the different angle a left-armer brings.

Posted by mike9999 on (December 24, 2012, 6:08 GMT)

A very long time ago I used to bowl left arm fast and my coach was always telling m to "keep your arm UP". Well the same applies to MrJohnson! Keep your arm up and there will be fewer rubbish balls and more of the magic we all are wanting!

Posted by LillianThomson on (December 24, 2012, 1:28 GMT)

I think Johnson is a superb cricketer.

Sure, he is never going to be the spearhead of the attack that it was hoped that he would be.

But he is a genuinely quick left-arm swing bowler who is also a very, very good lower-middle-order batsman. He will always be erratic with the ball, but it should be accepted that he is there to add balance to the attack and to be a reliable batting bulwark against lower-order collapses.

Australia is incredibly lucky to have both Watson and Johnson, as both can bowl probing spells while ensuring that the tail doesn't begin before the number 9 batsman.

With a tour of India coming up this is doubly important. England showed in the first test v both Pakistan and India that in Asia 3 seamers + 1 spinner is a suicide note. If Australia uses Lyon as a sole spinner they are toast.

But Johnson at number 8 and Watson at number 4 will allow Australia to go in with just 1 specialist quick bowler and 2 spinners, which is their only hope in India.

Posted by Kolpak1989 on (December 24, 2012, 1:15 GMT)

Genuine wicket taker. If Watson bowls him in short, sharp spells he will get a bagload.

Posted by tintaman on (December 23, 2012, 23:56 GMT)

Do not understand why Cricinfo articles keep pointing to Johnson's domestic form as a reason for him to be considered for Tests. AVERAGING A TOUCH UNDER 30 IS NOT SETTING THE WORLD ON FIRE, particularly in a season so far dominated by ball (the reason why I actually rate Hughes' average of 50 as a reason for him to have come back into the side). I actually rate him as a one-day bowler, but there is no way he's even in the top 6 bowlers in the country at the moment (who for my mind are Siddle, Pattinson, Starc, Hilfenhaus, Bird and Butterworth). Cummins and Harris might push ahead of him as well but for now both are essentially unproven since they're returning from long breaks.

Posted by Busie1979 on (December 23, 2012, 23:54 GMT)

The problem with Johnson is purely mental. The issue is not talent which is why people are so hypercritical of him because he hasn't performed to anywhere near his potential. I think out of all the Aussie bowlers, Johnson is the most unplayable when he is on song. But when he is bad, he is really bad. If the selectors feel he has got over his mental demons, I think they should give him a go.

Posted by Timmuh on (December 23, 2012, 23:39 GMT)

Johnson was far from "impressive" in Perth in my view, he probably deserved two of his wickets with the others coming from the "rubbish gets wickets" which has been his biggest asset his whole career. He was amazingly consistent by his standards, almost to the point expected of a bowler in First Class cricket - but only almost.

The guy's Shield form is mediocre, he has a history of losing whole series more than he has of playing a role in winning matches. He should barely be getting a agme for WA, much less in contention for Australia. Yes, he can be quick and aggressive. But pace means nothing against good Test batsmen when the ball is sprayed around like water from an out of control fire hose.

Posted by Meety on (December 23, 2012, 23:07 GMT)

@Jono Makim - I'm afraid that MJ has the same Barber as Patto & that didn't end well!

Posted by   on (December 23, 2012, 16:03 GMT)

I'll be sitting under the sign that says "not convinced".

Posted by mukesh_LOVE.cricket on (December 23, 2012, 15:14 GMT)

with guys like starc,siddle,pattinson,cummins emerging selecting him for tests would be a mistake (except at perth) , but he will be a very good one day bowler for Australia. good pace and aggression too !

Posted by   on (December 23, 2012, 14:41 GMT)

I think Mitchell Johnson deserve full crack of test cricket back. He still has the goods he can deliver at test level. Bowled in short aggrieve spell he can do damages to teams. also he should be in the one day team mitch is very experience in that format of that game.

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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.
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