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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?
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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