Johnson says no to BBL
Mitchell Johnson has boldly turned his back on the Twenty20 Big Bash League in order to keep himself fit for one of Australia's most taxing Test summers. Having fielded an offer from the Perth Scorchers, Johnson decided it would do him little good to try to squeeze T20 appearances in between home Test series against New Zealand and India, which follow winter and spring tours to Sri Lanka and South Africa.
At 29, Johnson is conserving his resources to concentrate on international cricket. It is a sound decision given that he is still to harness the consistency befitting an Australian spearhead - one of the chief tasks confronting the new bowling coach Craig McDermott will be to help Johnson do so. Johnson also indicated a desire to go back to grade cricket when he has the chance, the sort of attitude in short supply among many Australian first-class cricketers.
"At the moment I've decided not to sign with any of the Twenty20 sides," Johnson told reporters in Brisbane at Australia's training camp. "The Scorchers approached me and at the moment I'm just happy to focus on the summer coming up.
"With India coming over, they're obviously a strong side, and it might give me a chance also to go back to grade cricket if the opportunity's there. We've got a big summer coming up, Sri Lanka first, then South Africa, they're going to be big Tests for us in their home towns, and a big summer here, so that's where my main focus is."
Where in the past Australian players were encouraged by Cricket Australia to think twice about accepting overseas T20 contracts, this time the game's administrators have been actively encouraging their nationally-contracted talent to sign with BBL teams, ostensibly to help market the new competition. Johnson is the first to ignore these entreaties.
CA had hoped that all of its most high-profile players would take part in the first round of the BBL, as part of a concerted push to grow the game's audience and revenue.
"I'm just going to take it one step at a time," Johnson said of the upcoming season. "We're playing Sri Lanka; I haven't played a Test series there. I know the wickets are pretty flat and it's quite hot over there as well. They've got Kumar Sangakkara in unbelievable form, Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan can go off at any time, they've got such a great side."
While he is still to do complete justice to his talent, Johnson is increasingly aware of his advancing years; he is little more than two years younger than McDermott was when he retired from the game in 1996. Johnson trained with plenty of purpose during the off-season, rejuvenating his body for the long days in the field that can be expected against strong line-ups such as Sri Lanka's and India's.
"I'm feeling pretty good at the moment," Johnson said. "I've got plenty of years in me, I don't know if I'm reaching my peak now, but I'm always working as hard as I can to be as strong as I can and as fit as I can.
"That's why it's been a good break for me, I've been able to go back and do a bit of running, do a lot of strength work and just do different things outside of cricket. So I feel very strong at the moment."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo