Death by the cathedral

On a docile Adelaide drop-in, Mitchell Johnson burst in, cracked open a Test, and set his side on course to win back the Ashes
Daniel Brettig March 14, 2014

Mitchell Johnson: winner, Test bowling performance of 2013

Mitchell Johnson
7 for 40 v England, second Test, Adelaide

Perth. Durban. Brisbane. Centurion. The scenes of Mitchell Johnson's most destructive bursts have generally been grounds on which pace is prestige. In such environments batsmen have less time to cope with the slinging action, the occasional swing, the high speed and the throat-seeking bouncer. Likewise Johnson has more reason to charge in to the wicket, knowing his gifts will be augmented by the qualities of the pitch. In these circumstances he is undeniably lethal.

Then there is Adelaide. The city of churches and of hundreds, of Bradman, the Chappells, Hookes and Lehmann. The oval of picket fences and short square boundaries. The surface of high first-innings scores and gradual deterioration, of Test matches stretching languidly to finish sometime around tea on the final day. Latterly, the home of a benign drop-in pitch. Adelaide was not a Johnson venue in any sense. Before this summer it was his second-least prolific Australian Test ground, and the place where he was dropped during the 2010-11 Ashes.

In the weeks before the second Test against England, Adelaide's reputation as a vexing locale for fast bowlers had gathered greater steam, through the South Australian Cricket Association's installation of the drop-ins to ease the addition of AFL football to the ground. Previously a paceman could expect some early life then variable bounce towards the end. This time there was less evidence of either. At the time of writing, in four first-class matches at the ground in 2013-14, including the Test match, the combined figures of every other pace bowling stint in Adelaide came to 41 wickets for 1963 runs at 47.88. No other fast bowler claimed a five-wicket haul.

So when Alastair Cook gazed down towards the Cathedral End a few minutes after tea on the second day to face Johnson's first ball, he harboured thoughts of a threat reduced if not neutralised. Australia's first-innings tally was vast, but the pitch unimpeachably flat, the sky blue and the sun high. Thrilling and terrifying in equal measure at the Gabba, Johnson could not reproduce that here, could he? Next question.

Summoning pace arguably greater than that of his Brisbane display, Johnson beat Cook three times in nine balls. The first two thudded into Brad Haddin's gloves. The third clattered squarely into off stump, having straightened marginally off the pitch. Movement or none, Cook was simply done for speed, his bat still on its hesitant downswing when the ball hummed past. Of all his Ashes dismissals, this one stays in the mind. Cook the unbowlable, bowled. That moment alone was enough to make Johnson's Test memorable. A crowd of 35,488 went home raving about it.

Johnson was far from finished, of course. Nathan Lyon, Peter Siddle and Shane Watson winkled out a trio of England wickets on day three, setting the scene for Johnson's return to the crease. An older ball offered the possibility of some reverse swing, a scoreline of 117 for 4 the opportunity for a killing. Patient cricket had been required to corner the tourists into their uncertain position. What followed was the sort of extraordinary interlude that lifted the genteel Adelaide Oval into a state of rare tumult.

The scorecard bears an uncanny resemblance to those of teams pitted against West Indies in the 1980s, or facing Wasim and Waqar the following decade. England's lower order simply ceased to exist. Ben Stokes lbw, beaten for pace. Matt Prior caught behind, waving his bat at Johnson's angle. Stuart Broad, bowled behind his pads next ball after theatrically delaying the delivery. Graeme Swann edging airily to slip. James Anderson bowled next ball between a yawning bat and pad. Monty Panesar gone in similar fashion a few minutes later. Ian Bell the lone survivor, his quite reasonable thoughts of a century still lingering from little more than half an hour before.

Such mayhem. Such noise. Such excitement. Such destruction. That evening, after Australia had commenced setting England an unreachable target on the way to a 2-0 lead in the series, he reflected on what he had done. "There's been talk in the past, I can have those performances where I can blow a team away and then the next one not turn up," he said in the gentle voice that can obscure the menace. "For me I think that was why it was a bit more emotional and special."

In years to come, this will be remembered as the performance that pushed Johnson into the very top bracket of fast men. The occasion, the venue, the opponent, the drama and, yes, the moustache, all added to the sense of a rare moment in time. Comparisons with Michael Holding's immortal performance on a similarly unresponsive wicket at The Oval in 1976 abounded, and they were not made lightly.

The rare quality of Johnson's 7 for 40 could be glimpsed even when England faced him again, in the second innings. Though claiming Cook again, this time on the hook, he found the going harder, and supported the rest of the attack in rounding up the second innings. Man-of-the-Match honours, though, were never in question. Johnson had cut England to pieces, leaving no doubt as to the destiny of the Ashes, nor the identity of the man who had decided it. And all on a pitch no more friendly to fast men than dogs are to cats. Unforgettable.

Posted by thozar on (March 17, 2014, 1:09 GMT)

Winsome, all I said was that although Mitchell Johnson's performance was very good, you have to consider the opposition and the conditions before giving awards. England are among the worst cricket playing countries now and performances against them cannot be considered the best. I am sure if Shami had a chance to bowl against them now, he would also turn in a match winning performance. Same with Ishant Sharma. Ashwin bamboozled the Aussies. If you say that performance was at home, Mitchell's was also at home. Shami, on the other hand, bowled his heart out against the South Africans in South Africa. I would even rate Pattinson's 5 wicket haul against India in the first test last year better.

Posted by Winsome on (March 16, 2014, 14:30 GMT)

thozar, the award isn't for a bowler taking wickets in India alone as you seem to believe, it's an international award covering all the test playing nations and given on the basis of a single performance. It could have been a very close-run thing, we can't know. Why are you so sure that you know better than the large number of commentators, ex-players, journos and current players who were involved in this award selection? I've never said anything about bowlers proving themselves in one country over another so go and pick that fight with someone else.

Posted by Micky.Panda on (March 16, 2014, 13:35 GMT)

@thozar, You seem to have lost the plot talking about teams performance in different countries, best teams and best players. The award here is for a single performance. That is the topic. Likewise Dhawan received an award for a particular performance.

Posted by   on (March 16, 2014, 12:49 GMT)

Well deserved award even though it was against a team playing very poor cricket at the moment.

Posted by thozar on (March 16, 2014, 6:02 GMT)

@RB007, except Steyn in that list no one compares to the great West Indian attack of the 80s. Ryan Harris is chicken when it comes to playing in India. Mitchell Johnson tried and failed miserably. Morkel was useless in Indian pitches and is an average bowler anyway. Oz fans are so excited with their quicks despite them getting thrashed 4-0 in India. All this excitement will vanish when they have to tour India again. The smile will disappear from the Oz faces when they tour India, hahaha.

Posted by thozar on (March 15, 2014, 22:02 GMT)

baghels.a, why should we satisfy TheBigBoodha or any Oz fan here? Have you read what they write about our players? Everytime one of our player achieves something, they are the first to come and trash us with the usual "flat track bullies", "pop-gun attack", etc. It is a fact that Mitchell Johnson has had a good 6 months but that doesn't make him the best. Adelaide may not be the most helpful track to fast bowlers but he only bowled against batsmen who are clueless.

Winsome, you are the one who needs to grow up. India were the second best test team in the world according to the ICC from the beginning of the Ashes till the end of the RSA-Aus series. Every time our batsmen score runs we are asked to prove ourselves in Oz. What is wrong in saying that their bowlers should prove themselves in India? Dale has done it and more. Mitchell has done it only on helpful tracks and/or clueless batsmen.

Posted by Winsome on (March 15, 2014, 19:11 GMT)

At the time he wrecked the Adelaide test, England were still the second ranked test team in the world. Some of you should grow up. Hindsight about the English batsmen is meaningless.

Posted by   on (March 15, 2014, 17:38 GMT)

Absolutely deserves it. Had he taken it against sides that don't play pace naturally, it would be no big deal. England should play pace well. They have good batsmen - Cook, Trott, KP, Bel...and the same side beat Aus.

BTW - India did not do well when faced with NZ bowling or in SA. And history is full of how India fared against quicks. It was only under ganguly with exceptional talent in Sachin, Darvid, Shewag, and VVS, that india saved face. Of course it is heartening to see the new team doing OK.

So lets be a sport and accept the fact that Mitch got it right against Eng and SA. As a neutral I will say - yes he did win the ashes for Aus and the series in SA too.

Posted by RB007 on (March 15, 2014, 14:48 GMT)

Mitchell Johnson - the reason to watch cricket again! What joy! And what menace! Watching the recent Aus / SA series, it was clear that he had overshadowed even Dale Steyn. Amazing! Just a thought. How well do you think a combined bowling line up of Johnson, Steyn, Morkel and Harris compare with that of the great West Indies sides of the 80s. Makes the mouth water at the prospect doesn't it. N.B. The number one ranked bowler is not in that list!

Posted by Tausifd on (March 15, 2014, 13:17 GMT)

A well deserved award by Mitch! You hardly see any bowler in modern cricket bowling with intensity that Micth has shown throughout this year. It will be true test of ours new famed batting line up of Indian Cricket coming december against like of Mitch!

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