Australia A in England 2012 July 26, 2012

Cowan to give Johnson free rein


As the latest captain tasked with getting the best out of the famously enigmatic Mitchell Johnson, Australia A's leader Ed Cowan has decided on a directive to the left-armer that may be summarised by the following four words: do what you like.

Cowan made no secret of his desire to help build Johnson back up to a level of confidence and wicket-taking from which he may return to the Australian Test team, and said his intention was to let the bowler call his own tune. During the senior team's horrid ODI tour of England, Johnson said he had reconciled the fact his success or otherwise as a bowler depended largely on his mental state. To that end, Cowan wants to make him as comfortable as possible with Australia A.

"The most important thing that I want from him is for him to be happy and do what he wants to do. So my opinion is what he wants, essentially," Cowan told ESPNcricinfo ahead of the tour opener at Derby on Friday. "If he wants to run in and bowl fast, then we'll set fields accordingly, if he wants to contain or swing, whatever.

"He just needs to be relaxed and enjoy his cricket, away from the spotlight of international cricket and the pressures and the demands and the scrutiny most importantly that brings, and just get back to finding some rhythm and bowling well. Everyone knows how good he is, it's just a question of regaining that confidence in his body and his action. His action looks great at the moment, and I'll just be just letting him loose, let him do his own thing and have confidence to do that, that's a big thing."

At 30, Johnson is by a distance the most experienced bowler on tour. He is also the most capped tourist in Test cricket by a distance, his 47 Tests more than the rest combined - Cowan (seven Tests), James Pattinson (five), Steve Smith (five), Tim Paine (four) and Mitchell Starc (four). Cowan said he had seen early evidence that Johnson was more comfortable offering advice these days, rather than merely receiving it.

"There's a leadership aspect to him on the tour as well, already we've seen him giving of himself to the younger guys," Cowan said. "There's a wealth of knowledge there, and he feels a bit more secure to be able to give it to this group, so really looking forward to him being a leader in that sense. I think that will help him, rather than having to lead the attack he can be a guy who can enjoy his cricket, be a source of advice to the other guys, and we're looking forward to seeing him back to his best."

Another man edging his way back into the international game is the wicketkeeper Paine, following a lengthy and still resonant battle to repair a badly fractured finger. Cowan was with Paine last year at the time of one of his more disheartening medical assessments, and said the Tasmanian's determination to return had been matchless, overcoming self-doubt as much as his battered digit.

"I don't think people understand a lot of the time what goes on behind the scenes for guys to get themselves fit," Cowan said. "Not just physically but mentally, there's a lot of moments when you're injured for a long time that you start doubting if you'll ever play again or play as well as you did. Those are natural thoughts he's had to overcome, and in the last four or five months he's proved to himself that he's right, he's ready to play and prove himself and push back for international selection.

"He's such a talent, such a natural keeper and such a beautiful flowing batsman when he gets going. The expectation is just for him to play some cricket, to get through injury free and see what happens. I'm not looking for him to come and blaze it straight away, because it does take time to find your feet. He takes such pride in performance that I'm sure he'll put some great numbers on the board, but we'll just let him play and the rest evolve."

Paine will bat and keep wicket with reinforced gloves. Like Cowan, he will be hopeful that Johnson's deliveries are well directed.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Roo on July 28, 2012, 13:33 GMT

    @Beertjie... Haven't seen many bagging O'Keefe... Last season he had a big splitting in the webbing of his hand, so takes time to heal - mucked up his season - even the so called experts forget that... Glad we don't have to rely on their hypothesis... Affected bot his bowling & batting... Also he is captain of NSW, so doesn't need to move for FC cricket as long as CNSW look after him...

  • Roo on July 28, 2012, 10:38 GMT

    @Beertjie... Haven't seen many bagging O'Keefe... Last season he had a big splitting in the webbing of his hand, so takes time to heal - mucked up his season - seems even the so called experts forget that... Glad we don't have to rely on their hypothesis... Affected both bowling & batting... Also he is captain of NSW, so doesn't need to move for FC cricket...

  • Mashuq on July 28, 2012, 9:59 GMT

    Excellent reminder of the sequence of events around S'OK at that time (prior to Argus, though), @Meety on (July 27 2012, 12:10 PM GMT). I guess he lost a bit of confidence last season, but imo he's as likely to as Smith to develop into an all-rounder (perhaps he should move to another state?). I hope you're wrong about the bias against him, but if he can cut it, we'll see about it then.

  • Andrew on July 27, 2012, 12:12 GMT

    @HatsforBats & Klinger gets out for 25!

  • Andrew on July 27, 2012, 12:10 GMT

    @Jono Makim - yep, I'm with you 100% brother. Whilst I don't think Cowan will ever be a Matty Hayden (how many ever could be?), he could serve a useful purpose for Oz. He could do a decent job until a resurgent Hughes reclaims his Baggy Green, or a Liam Davis or Maddison steps up. @reddawn1975 - SO'K is one of the bigger mysteries of recent times (& there has been a few!). He got a chance to show what he is made of against the Poms during their all conquering Ashes tour at Hobart. At that point in time, it meant he was technically the next in line to a Baggy Green (Merv Hughes who just retired from the selection panel said as much). He made a decent fist of things with the bat & took 3 wickets at a good rate, (Poms played their Test batsmen). Then out of nowhere Beer gets selected. Now I understand the concept of selectors using a hunch - but that was a massive stretch. I have a feeling, he'll never get selected for Oz, & that will really be a travesty!

  • Dummy4 on July 27, 2012, 9:46 GMT

    @Meety, i'm with you on this one, I reckon Ed has a bit to offer. The top order certainly looks more stable with him there, I reckon it's just a matter of time before he translates his recent FC scores to the test arena.@LewisEdwards, i'm just not sure how you can say Hughes and Khawaja are better players. More talented perhaps, but they have to translate that into runs. Khawaja isn't having much of a run yet at Derbyshire, but Hughes is, to his credit stacking on the runs which should keep Ed and Dave Warner honest.

  • Andrew on July 27, 2012, 7:59 GMT

    @LewisEdwards - Cowan should be playing for his position - but bear in mind the WIndies tour was not an easy one for scoring runs. If you were compare the top orders, Cowan doesn't look quite so bad, that being said he certainly didn't advance his cause.

  • Allan on July 27, 2012, 1:25 GMT

    RandyOz and Mat_Mcintosh are on the mark, Cowan is lucky to be in the team with an average of 29 after 2 series, Hughes and Khawaja are better players then him and what's more they don't talk themselves up like Cowan does.

  • Andrew on July 26, 2012, 23:33 GMT

    @Harry_Kool on (July 26 2012, 21:10 PM GMT) - Cowan will be good for MJs ego, should read the article Ed wrote about facing him in a shield game a year or so ago!

  • Harry on July 26, 2012, 21:17 GMT

    @ xylo. I'll take the current state of Aussie cricket over what every other country has experienced (ex SAf) after losing stars. BTW, the first series loss in 18 months, currently #1 in ODI & #2 in tests. Yep, it is a dreadful state of affairs. Sobs.

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