Australia A in England 2012

Cowan to give Johnson free rein

Daniel Brettig

July 26, 2012

Comments: 58 | Text size: A | A

Mitchell Johnson takes a breather, Sri Lanka v Australia, 2nd Test, Pallekele, 1st day, September 8, 2011
Cowan on Johnson: "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." © AFP

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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by zenboomerang 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...

Posted by zenboomerang 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...

Posted by Beertjie 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.

Posted by Meety on (July 27, 2012, 12:12 GMT)

@HatsforBats & Klinger gets out for 25!

Posted by Meety 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!

Posted by   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.

Posted by Meety 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.

Posted by Paul_Rampley 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.

Posted by Meety 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!

Posted by Harry_Kool 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.

Posted by Harry_Kool on (July 26, 2012, 21:10 GMT)

Perhaps Mitch can look to Ed for inspiration. Here we have one guy with limited abilities playing to his best potential with the other having unlimited abilities & basically putting in only average efforts. Ed Cowan is a player's player, Mitch, well, he has a lot to prove.

Posted by   on (July 26, 2012, 17:16 GMT)

@Derbyshire, eh up m'duck! Apologies, i'm just a lazy sod. Can't wait for the first match, very much looking forward to seeing the Aussie lads playing at the County Ground against the mighty Derbyshire! :)

Posted by   on (July 26, 2012, 16:28 GMT)

sometimes a bowler is just past it. when bowlers lose their fear factor batsmen just dont get out. some times its best to just retire.

Posted by   on (July 26, 2012, 15:31 GMT)

Mitch! - unleash all the wides, no-balls and pressure-releasing garbage you can dish up! I know you've had 'em building up in you for 12 months.

Posted by reddawn1975 on (July 26, 2012, 14:03 GMT)

I agree with jonesy2 that is a much better looking squad it is amazing o'keefe does not get a game he can bat he can bowl mmm and still can someone tell me why Steve Smith is still getting a game of cricket at any format in International cricket they guy is simply not good enough....i dont want to bag a fellow Aussie but i've never seen someone with so little skill play at this level he's a good grade cricketer.I think Butterworth would make a good case for selection he's a very good player under estimated around the country.

Posted by Mary_786 on (July 26, 2012, 13:55 GMT)

Well said RandyOZ, Cowan should worry about his own position in the Aussie team rather then comment on other players. Hughes and Khawaja are both better players then him.

Posted by DERBYSHIRE-1 on (July 26, 2012, 13:18 GMT)

Who are Derby?? We are called Derbyshire. We are a county not a city.

Posted by Behind_the_bowlers_arm on (July 26, 2012, 13:05 GMT)

This is a very important series. For those who are asking the unlikely selection of Cowan is down to him being the Test opener in possession and needing English batting experience. Im looking forward to seeing how Joe Burns copes too. There are Test spots up for grabs and the selectors are doing the right thing in using the opportunity to expose candidates. Johnson however .... I dont get the selection. Before the unfortunate Cummins injury i was hoping to see him Pattinson and Starc get experience along with Lyon. Hopefully someone like Cutting will play instead of Cummins now.

Posted by zenboomerang on (July 26, 2012, 13:00 GMT)

@HatsforBats :- "I would've included Butterworth, he's been excellent these last few seasons; Klinger & Holland though...?"... Yes its tough atm... I would have given Klinger a go 3 years ago, before Hughes (& Smith) - just feel that Phil was introduced prematurely & badly used by Ponting & Nielsen, but has a great future - Adam Voges has always impressed me & along with Maxy could give Oz 3-4 years... Holland - interesting selection, but guess he is the backup for Lyon - why not Beer, O'Keefe, Krejza, Doherty?... 4 matches so he may not get a bowl but young & getting a national gig, so maybe just a "building" experience, but is it the best for our future?... Not my first backup pick...

Posted by Paul_Rampley on (July 26, 2012, 12:54 GMT)

@jono Maim agree with you mate, Khawaja is playing for Derby and predicting he will get some runs against the A side as we need him back for the ashes.

Posted by Suhailmarsh on (July 26, 2012, 11:52 GMT)

Where the hell is Shaun Marsh? He is still a talented player. He must consider bfore steve smith

Posted by   on (July 26, 2012, 11:25 GMT)

Okay, whose everyone picking for this team then? I reckon from this squad, based on looking towards next years ashes series and potential to play top level cricket thereafter my xi for the main fixtures would be; Cowan, Davis, Forrest, Burns, Bailey, Paine, Cutting, Pattinson, Lyon, Starc, Bird. Yes five bowlers bt from this squad i'd be keen at looking more at the bowling than the batting, as I just don't see the likes of Klinger or Smith being anywhere near the test team. I'd like to get Cooper and McDermott into a match each as well. At just 4 matches though i'm not sure how much anyone will be able to take from this. They should have been going over to play a couple of matches against Ireland or something, probably pretty tough to ask the counties to squeeze any more matches in.

Posted by jonesy2 on (July 26, 2012, 11:18 GMT)

the aussie a squad should be as follows: davis, maddinson, burns, m marsh, patterson, faulkner, paine, o'keefe, coulter-nile, bird, richardson

Posted by HatsforBats on (July 26, 2012, 10:37 GMT)

@ zenboomerang, that makes the exclusion of Faulkner and NCN even more bemusing. I would've included Butterworth, he's been excellent these last few seasons; Klinger & Holland though...?

Posted by zenboomerang on (July 26, 2012, 9:43 GMT)

Still can't work out how Cowan gets to be the Aust A captain... Bailey the Tas & Oz T20 capt is in the team, Klinger ex-capt SA, Paine previous Aust A capt & only wicky on tour... To make matters even worse, the NSP have put Forrest in as VC - WTF?... Even Steve Smith has had captaining duties at domestic level...

Posted by   on (July 26, 2012, 9:39 GMT)

I think the Aussies chances of regaining the ashes have improved: 1. Aus A are playing in England with many test players. 2. Given England's recent loss against SA and that Aus beat SA in the last test they played, there's a good chance that Aus are better than Eng. So all for Aus is good. England haven't won a series against SA at home since 1998. Go figure.

Posted by Matt. on (July 26, 2012, 9:26 GMT)

'Everyone knows how good he is'.....I don't, i guess i must be slow to catch on

Posted by RandyOZ on (July 26, 2012, 9:13 GMT)

FOrget Johnson, COwan shouldn't be anywhere near the test side. Look at his FC average, it paints a Shaun Marsh-like picture.

Posted by Naresh28 on (July 26, 2012, 8:29 GMT)

Too much to choose from for fast bowlers in Oz. Mitchell chances are slim of getting back in the fold. I wish Oz the best to win the ashes.

Posted by Marcio on (July 26, 2012, 8:21 GMT)

@ xylo "Unfortunately, given the state of the Australia team..." You mean the fact that they just lost their first test/ODI series in 18 months and 11 series? Yeah. It was unfortunate. But you can't win them all. ;-)

Posted by Marcio on (July 26, 2012, 8:18 GMT)

Johnson has no control, so how is ed going to control him, LOL? Anyway, it's probably the best policy with the guy. Let him rip. If its pitching on the practice strip beside the game pitch, put him down to fine leg for a day.

Posted by ozwriter on (July 26, 2012, 7:57 GMT)

i just can't believe cowan was made captain of the the A team. useless batsman, useless leader

Posted by   on (July 26, 2012, 6:48 GMT)

And presumably Ussie K will be lining up for Derby which will be mighty interesting too.

Posted by   on (July 26, 2012, 6:46 GMT)

Ed Cowan, Kaptain Karma. Plenty of good aura here boys. I'm far more interested to see how Jackson Bird and Ben Cutting go as they must kept at the forefront along with Patto, Cummins and Starc. Along with Lyon we have a vast amount of talented bowlers 25 and under. As well as Joe Burns, who, looking through the stats of the A squad, would appear to be the stand out young talent amongst the batsmen.

Posted by zenboomerang on (July 26, 2012, 6:43 GMT)

Wish CA had held back Johnson for just the Aust A games & not included him in the recent ODI's - still using ODI matches as practice matches for "possible" Test players - about as dumb as it gets... Until Johnson has had some FC & Aust A games we really don't know how he will mentally stand up to longer form cricket - please don't tell he is bowling well in the nets - a'la Clarke, Ponting... Surely Starc showing better form should have been in the ODI squad to start with... Just hope Starc, Bird, Cutting get a fair go & don't miss out due to the mollycoddling of Johnson...

Posted by zenboomerang on (July 26, 2012, 6:28 GMT)

@HatsforBats... @GMFoley... Many bring up Johnsons Perth game where he claimed 9 wkts - but everyone forgets that in the same Test Harris also claimed 9 wkts & while he is fit is one of our best Test bowlers & would be ahead of Siddle imho... Still the youngsters are starting to show form, so he may be lucky to get more than 1 more summer in Oz Tests... HatsforBats - Faulkner & Nathan are ready to go... Would also liked to have seen Butterworth in the Aust A squad - the conditions should suit both him & Faulkner, so I think a wasted opportunity by CA... Wish we had as many dilemma's with our batsmen...

Posted by Timbo2530 on (July 26, 2012, 5:59 GMT)

I think Mitch Johnson's problem isn't confidence, he just needs a tweak in his technique.

As an old park cricketer (and mediocre swing bowler) I can't figure why Mitch Johnson scrambles the seam when he bowls. I used to get smashed by the Capt if I ever did that. It won't swing and it damages the ball. I just shake my head when I see it on TV.

Get your wrist behind the ball Mitch. You'd be devastating. You've definitely bowled the odd unplayable spell in your time and its been poetry in motion, so you definitely have the potential.

Posted by MinusZero on (July 26, 2012, 5:44 GMT)

His inconsistency is why Johnson should never play for Australia again. One good match in 10 is not good enough for international cricket. Give a regular Joe a game and they could do the same. Why is Mitch so special to selectors? A test bowling average of 31.29 is not what is expected of a front line bowler.

Posted by PeteB on (July 26, 2012, 5:44 GMT)

When O when will we just wave goodbye to Mitch. I'm sure he can earn useful dollars in the IPL. Australia is blessed with fast bowling talent right now and the last thing any captain needs is the burden of managing him. He's just too high maintenance.

Posted by xylo on (July 26, 2012, 5:25 GMT)

I see a bunch of people with the opinion that Johnson is a confidence-bowler. The same was said of Anderson as well. When the going is good, it is all good, but when you run into a good opposition, like England recently did, it all goes downhill. Unfortunately, given the state of the Australia team, there are many teams that would qualify as good opposition. If the rest of the bowling line-up were McGrath, Lee, and Warne, he could get a free ticket, but not with the current aspiring line-up where there are no free berths.

Posted by   on (July 26, 2012, 5:17 GMT)

I think Mitch is too erratic to be a great fast bowler. He would still make a come back and get a few more amazing spells to his name. But one the parameters for greatness is also consistency....Mitch lacks consistency

Posted by Heisenburg on (July 26, 2012, 4:52 GMT)

If I see him in the test team again, I will claw my eyes out, we have so much test bowling talent, Sid, Hilfy, Harris, Pattinson, Starc, Cummins, and a whole lot more , how Johnson could even be considered for the test team is unbelievable.

Posted by maddinson on (July 26, 2012, 4:48 GMT)

Coulter Nile, Faulkner and Mitchell Marsh should've been part of Australia's A team

Posted by gzawilliam on (July 26, 2012, 4:42 GMT)

Ed cowan,Liam davis, JoeBurns,Cooper,Bailey,Paine,Johnson,Pattinson,Starc ,Lyon,Mcderrmott

That should be the team. Id like to see jackson bird get a good run aswell. But to me forrest is not a lon term option. his batting is way too rigid to be a top class player no matter the comparisons to watson's technique.

Starc davis and burns are future stars.

Posted by   on (July 26, 2012, 4:35 GMT)

To me, Mitchell Johnson is like Thisara Perera in reverse (with regard to bowling). Perera always gets wickets (in ODIs, but he is starting to make an impact in Tests) but sometimes goes for too many runs. Johnson always bleeds runs and sometimes takes wickets across all forms.

Posted by jonesy2 on (July 26, 2012, 4:35 GMT)

weirdest a team ever surely this is a the greatest a team ever assembled? best of luck to tim paine its brilliant to see him back and this is a huge step for him.

Posted by Meety on (July 26, 2012, 4:25 GMT)

@GMFoley - yes, I think he is almost definately a WACA specialist at least for tests!

Posted by Oldpunk on (July 26, 2012, 4:22 GMT)

I still think MJ has something to offer BUT:

1. I think they brought him back too early. They should have "officially" dropped" him and made him earn his return to rep sides based on Shield performances in 2012/13; and

2. They should have told him to get serious about his batting and develop into an "allrounder". His has more batting potential than Smith IMHO.

Posted by popcorn on (July 26, 2012, 4:19 GMT)

This is excellent Captaincy by Ed Cowan. It will give confidence to Mitch that he is still valued, and will help him rediscover his mojo. Hope he discovers consistency. Mitch against the Saffers at Perth in 2008 and against the Poms in 2010 was devastating. He is our X Factor, no question.

Posted by GMFoley on (July 26, 2012, 3:17 GMT)

I still think that Mitch has a lot to offer Aus cricket. Even when he was not performing in Tests, he was our most impressive one-day bowler, and performs very well on the sub-continent. He's a confidence player, and if he bowls well and scores runs here, and in upcoming one-day tournaments, who knows where he could end up. Should always be considered for the Perth test every year anyway!

Posted by HatsforBats on (July 26, 2012, 3:16 GMT)

We all know just how talented Johnson is and how devastatingly effective he is when everything aligns for him. As a fan I would love to see him back at his best, and hopefully his forced time away from the game has helped him get a bit closer to that. He is very fit at 30 and he still has quite a few years left but I would be very suprised to see him move ahead of Siddle, Hilf, Pattinson, or Starc in the test lineup. I would've liked to have seen Faulkner and Coulter-Nile in the squad too (any injurious there?).

Posted by maddinson on (July 26, 2012, 3:11 GMT)

Cutting, Pattinson, Starc, Burns, Lyon and Forrest should play all the possible practice matches.

Posted by Rusty_1 on (July 26, 2012, 3:03 GMT)

It's going to be a long, hard road for Johnston to get back into the test team. He is behind Hilfy, Siddle, Harris, Pattinson & Cummins at least for mine. I for one don't want to see him back again unless he can contol his line and length like our frontline attack. We can't have pressure being built at one end, only to have it released by 4+ runs an over being leaked by Johnston. We saw in Sri Lanka, SA & against India in AU the benefits of bowlers who can bowl a good line and length. No need to change that for a bowler who, on his rare day, can take a few wickets.

Posted by Mitcher on (July 26, 2012, 2:53 GMT)

Okay, seriously. This isn't funny anymore. Love the guy but Johnson is not up to Test cricket (aside from the very very very occasional destructive spell). How is continuing to live in hope that he will change, helping our progression? Even if he took 10 wickets in every A match I wouldn't pick him in the Test side. Too risky when other guys who will be around for much longer are emerging.

Posted by OneEyedAussie on (July 26, 2012, 2:20 GMT)

Good luck to Cowan in regards to "managing" Johnson, if such a thing is even possible. I predict Johnson will perform poorly, but I want to be pleasantly surprised.

Posted by Meety on (July 26, 2012, 2:12 GMT)

Wry smile over the last sentence! This series has a lot more importance than the recently completed ODI series. Like many others, looking fwd to see how this series pans out!

Posted by jmcilhinney on (July 26, 2012, 2:05 GMT)

Sounds like a reasonable approach. While I think that Johnson's day has probably passed, the fact that he's in the A team means that the selectors still want him in the Australia team if possible, so it makes sense to do whatever it takes to help him succeed on this tour. While there will be fans on either side who will no doubt crow over the results whichever way they go, those results don't really matter all that much. From Australia's point of view especially, it's mostly about getting young and/or inexperienced players used to English conditions ahead of next year's Ashes. As long as they get that experience, the results are not really important. With Johnson, he just needs to bowl and see if he can get the old feel back. I don't think he will but putting no pressure on him to succeed in any way other than delivering the ball is good way to start.

Posted by   on (July 26, 2012, 1:57 GMT)

Good on Cowan! Mitch has been through a lot and he should be given every opportunity to regain a place in the Australian side.

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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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