July 4, 2012

Mitchell Johnson

The Johnson conundrum

Andrew Hughes
Mitchell Johnson and James Pattinson during net practice, Lord's, June 28, 2012
Mitch Johnson shields himself from the spray at the unveiling of a new sprinkler system inspired by his bowling  © Getty Images


Sunday, 1st July I hope he doesn’t take it the wrong way, but there is something of the stone age about Mitchell Johnson. His run-up reminds me of a caveman in vigorous pursuit of a woolly mammoth, charging across the savannah to fling a small leather ball with all his might in the vague direction of his quarry before the long trudge back to explain to the Johnson tribe that it’s roots and berries for dinner again.

In a world of laser-guided, hi-tech bowling weapons, Johnson is the 16th century blunderbuss, elaborately decorated and liable to go off in any direction. He is the ultimate luxury bowler, as extravagantly useless as a chocolate coffee maker and as profligate as an investment banker after his second bottle of Bollinger. Once again he’s been bailed out by Cricket Australia, but the public’s patience is wearing thin and the Serious Bowling Fraud Office may soon be in touch.

So why am I a fan? Well, imagine finding six unmarked envelopes pop through your letter box. You open the first five and they’re all bills. Then you find that the sixth one contains a $50 dollar note, a hand-written apology from the chairman of the gas company and an uplifting poem. That’s how it is when you watch Mitch. There’s roughly an 83% chance that what transpires upon his releasing the ball will be face-palm worthy. But occasionally, just occasionally, he produces a snorter.

And perhaps it’s because he reminds us of ourselves. If the standard professional bowler is a finely tuned machine, then most of us are like experimental Edwardian steam-powered bowling contraptions arriving at the crease with limbs flailing and no guarantee that the ball will land within an acre of where we fondly imagine we were aiming.

Yet just occasionally, perhaps one time in 30, instead of sailing through the living room window or thudding into the turf at our feet, the ball, as if guided by the cricket gods, does what we want it to do. Our legbreak lands on leg and fizzes past off. Our yorker screams to the base of middle stump and sends it cartwheeling backwards. Even if our next 20 deliveries are filth - and let’s face it, they probably will be - for a few moments we feel like Shane Warne or Michael Holding, or at the very least, Martin McCague.

But if you’re unfortunate enough to be an international cricket captain, what do you do with the occasionally brilliant bowler? Do you try to take him apart and reassemble him, with the risk that in messing with the machinery you might lose the wonky screw that made the whole thing work in the first place? Or do you take the inept with the inspired, accept that economy rates are for wimps, take a deep breath and write Johnson, M on the team sheet?

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England

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Posted by spn on (July 6, 2012, 3:51 GMT)

Great stuff andrew. the first para had me in tears.

How about a team of talent laden international underachievers:

Ramrakash Hick Hookes Johnson

?? etc

Who would be captain?

Posted by hasan on (July 5, 2012, 4:54 GMT)

Even after all what has transpired in recent memory and availability of endless competent fast bowling alternates in the Aussie camp, i still think he is Australia's best bet for picking wickets. Plus, he being a left armer who can swing the ball back into the right handed batters make him, in this era of ordinary bowlers, an absolute goldmine. He is just a bit short on confidence as he has just returned from injury, but i am sure one good show will change all that and then he will start producing the results that Clarke expects of him. In my opinion, Clarke wont mind his unpredictibility and waywardness, as far as he keeps on producing those wicket taking snorters.

Posted by Racheed Mani on (July 5, 2012, 4:53 GMT)

Very amusing article, and most of it is spot on. However, it is still a bit harsh on Mitch, as looking at the 2nd ODI, he actually bowled a pretty decent line, at over 90mph, however, what let him down was his discipline, with those preventable no-balls. Give him a chance, because on his day, he can absolutely rip his opposition to shreds. There's too much ability in what is a great cricketer for him to be struggling the way he is. Only hope he can get back to the form he had in 2008-09.

Posted by Concerned Reader on (July 5, 2012, 4:10 GMT)

And the point of this article is???

Posted by Daniel on (July 5, 2012, 3:18 GMT)

This is an interesting take on Mitchell Johnson. Personally I think he isn't up the standard required for international cricket. He had that one amazing test series in South Africa where he took lots of wickets and scored a couple of test hundreds with the bat, but since then he has been very disappointing.

You wrote about how how he might bowl 29 poor deliveries, and then 1 amazing ball that takes a wicket. This is precisely the reason why he shouldn't play test cricket, because all the bad deliveries make it harder for the bowler at the other end. Remember with McGrath, people would always talk about how he built up so much pressure that the other bowler, Warne or Gillespie, would take all the wickets?

There's no pressure for the batsman to score against the other bowler when they can hit two boundaries an over against Johnson.

Posted by ronnie on (July 5, 2012, 1:22 GMT)

mj should b used as an allrounder. bat him at 6 or 7.it would take the pressure off his bowling.he will win games with bat or ball.cmon selectors.go mitch.

Posted by techie on (July 4, 2012, 18:30 GMT)

Hi andrew, whats ur take on doug bollinger? seems to have a good first class record as well as test/odi stats. i'm surprised why he is consistently overlooked.

Posted by Anonymous on (July 4, 2012, 17:59 GMT)

Hahahaha hilarious

Posted by Miten on (July 4, 2012, 17:29 GMT)

I say screw economy rates and let Mitchell rip. I'm in it for the entertainment and he sure as hell entertains.

Posted by Chris on (July 4, 2012, 16:45 GMT)

Nice piece, but Australia cant carry this bloke anymore. England are laughing in they're boots. They want us to pick him. Drop him he is rubbish, he bats better than he bowls for heavens sake!

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Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73

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