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McDermott tells Johnson to get a grip

Daniel Brettig

July 12, 2011

Comments: 19 | Text size: A | A

Mitchell Johnson is set to earn a recall, Perth, December 13, 2010
Craig McDermott's initial advice to Mitchell Johnson has included the sort of tip found within the first few pages of a coaching manual © Getty Images
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Having waded through the many technical tweaks and tips offered by Troy Cooley over five years, Mitchell Johnson's first advice from his new bowling coach Craig McDermott must have seemed fiendishly simple: a new grip.

Cooley and Johnson had been close to inseparable on Australian tours since the summer of 2006-07. But McDermott's suggestion, that a more pronounced split of Johnson's fingers across the ball might contribute to better seam position and greater control, indicates that a fresh pair of eyes could be useful for a bowler who at 29 has never quite managed to assume the spearhead's mantle.

The greatest difference between Cooley and McDermott is the international experience they each have to call on. Cooley's modest Sheffield Shield career with Tasmania bears little comparison with McDermott's 291 Test wickets and countless spells under the most intense of cricket's spotlights.

"It's good to have Craig on board with his Test experience," Johnson said in Brisbane. "I had a good relationship with Troy Cooley and worked really well with him, but having Craig there with his Test and international experience is going to be a big boost for us.

"I haven't worked on too many technical [aspects] with him; just my fingers, split fingers and things like that. Nothing too out there, but just little things here and there, which has been good. But having him on tour in situations where we might come off the field and he might see something that we're not seeing, it'll be good to have that experience."

Johnson's mention of split fingers brought its own memory - many can recall McDermott's split-finger slower ball, which comically confounded Aravinda de Silva and Hashan Tillakaratne during a World Series ODI in Melbourne in 1996. But when pressed to expand, Johnson related the fact that his stock grip had perhaps encouraged him to spray the ball in the past, and that his new mentor had suggested the adjustment.

"I bowl with my fingers close together and I don't have as much control with the ball," he said. "So this just helps me stand the seam up a little bit; or hopefully that's the plan - to stand that seam up a little bit and give me that balance with the ball.

"I'm not going to be fiddling around with my wrist or anything like that at this [point. I'm going on 30 now and I don't think fiddling around too much like that is going to help me."

Subtle advice on technique and tactics, plus a large helping of empathy, is a formula that has worked well for numerous bowling coaches across the globe. Former Indian bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad describes himself as more of a tactical advisor than a technical seer, while David Saker's emphasis with England's attack in Australia was as much about knowing the conditions as the bowling action.

Johnson agreed that McDermott would be useful as he seeks to draw a line under the Ashes gremlins in his action that first surfaced in 2009 and returned again last summer, either side of a freakishly incisive spell on the second day of the third Test in Perth. Either side of the lunch break Johnson had appeared unplayable, but by the end of the summer England and their attendant Barmy Army had enjoyed very much the better of the duel.

"That's just the pressure of the game sometimes," Johnson said. "I struggled over in England in an Ashes series [in 2009] and probably let it get to me. Towards the end of that series I started to feel okay, but I guess it's just the build-up and the pressure of an Ashes series.

"I haven't found it in any other series, I haven't struggled that much with the pressures, but it is a big thing, the Ashes. I haven't thought too much about it but I would like to get better at it.

"I think for me I put too much pressure on myself, because I try to bowl the perfect ball all the time and then I put too much pressure on myself. And in a big series like that you just can't do that.

"You look at their [England's] squad, they'd been playing well for a long time, they've got a very good opening pair at the moment, a bit like a Justin Langer/Matthew Hayden sort of relationship. They're working really well as an opening pair. So there's a few things that come into it but I think I definitely try to bowl that perfect ball too much."

Johnson's mental approach is now to close the gap between his best and his worst, so he may deliver sturdy spells even if the planets have not aligned as they did at the WACA ground last December.

"Today was a perfect example, I didn't feel at my best today but still worked through it and bowled good enough I think," Johnson said. "I had a chat to Craig about it after and he said I looked pretty good. Having him and his experience as well is going to help me in the rest of my career.

"Definitely it's something I'm going to keep working on. You have your bad days but you've still got to go out there and perform, I've just got to find that balance."

That right balance, and the right grip.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by _Australian_ on (July 13, 2011, 6:49 GMT)

The funny thing for me is Johnson is the only international bowler I know that does not seem to know his own game or have any answers himself. He also looks to spend to much time during a game mimiking and practicing movements on his return to his mark. If you have to constantly concentrate on how you are bowling and not on the batsman in front of you during a game how can you be expected to peform? Johnson will always be a bowler who you never know if an international or park cricketer is going to show up from spell to spell. He is 29 and there is no magic answer. Unfortunately as our bowling stocks are so poor currently he gets the gig as our spearhead! As an Australian I just hope the good player shows up more than the bad.

Posted by crikey on (July 13, 2011, 0:02 GMT)

1st to nag888, isn't Mitchell Johnson allowed to do interviews? 2nd to stationmaster, all i have to do is watch my highlights package {your lowlights} of australia flogging england and it is all put into perspective. Don't let the chip on your shoulder get too heavy son !

Posted by smudgeon on (July 12, 2011, 22:25 GMT)

Surely confidence is as big an issue as grip. Once Mitch loses his confidence (which he does far too easily), that's when he starts to bowl rubbish. Think of his performance in the Ashes at Perth - he went out and hit a good fifty in the first innings, and his body language when he went out to bowl told the full story...and of course, it was magic to watch. I'd like to see him continue as a first-change bowler, but Australia really need a couple of good opening bowlers to take on a high workload and support him. As much as I like Hilf and Siddle, I just wonder whether they've run out of ideas at test level. And the pressure's on the now with Harris (when fit) and a whole host of young bowlers making strong cases for selection. Hope the selectors are paying really close attention to the A series and are willing to make some bold decisions (and take some short-term pain)...

Posted by   on (July 12, 2011, 22:19 GMT)

Mitchell might have given up on lucrative offers to play in T 20 league. The one thing he needs to remind himself is that he need to threaten batsmen by way of bowling those lethal inswingers.In the absence of swing he looks a ordinary bowler who is more predictable and wjo speays the ball around the pitch. He needs to work alot on his skills before he talks of leading the bowling quartret.

Posted by Wozza-CY on (July 12, 2011, 22:10 GMT)

With all due respect Nielsen, Cooley & Cox, I feel Rixon, McDermott & Marsh will be more capable of dealing with some of the egos of this team. Their no-nonsense straightalking will do more for this team than any tweaking with technique. If this is backed up by consistent selecion policies it will see oz fare much better. I think the key is in the headline 'get a grip'!

Posted by stationmaster on (July 12, 2011, 21:34 GMT)

I still love watching him lose his composure after about three overs of been whacked around by Cook and Strauss, from an ENG point of view, it seems like the more tattoos he gets, the worse he bowls - maybe the ink is too heavy ;-)

Posted by Blazedragon on (July 12, 2011, 18:07 GMT)

His main problem is that he needs to bowl around the wicket more often. He is much more affective that way.

Posted by nag888 on (July 12, 2011, 17:08 GMT)

Your bowling should talk with us, not your mouth

Posted by tomhedley on (July 12, 2011, 16:13 GMT)

How can he get an upright seam when his arm is at shoulder height when he releases? He doesn't swing it, he curves it!

Posted by Winsome on (July 12, 2011, 15:32 GMT)

Meety, I really doubt that's the only issue. Cooley is an epic fail if Johnson suddenly becomes consistently good. No, it's not going to happen, is it?

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Daniel BrettigClose
Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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