September 13, 2013

Mitch? Dunno

Miserable or magnificent - who knows which Mitchell Johnson will turn up on any given day?

He can soar or sink © Getty Images

Mitchell Johnson? Who knows? Man can bowl super-fine spells in one-day cricket, have batsmen leaping like trout with chin-frighteners more dangerous than illegal drugs. There are super-searing toe-crushers, a stock outswinger to left-handers, and all at plenty-rapid pace. Mitchell Johnson can bowl, baby.

But in Test cricket? Across five, long Tests of a hot Ashes summer?

This Mitchell Johnson?

I repeat: Who knows?

Certainly we'll know about his form in the limited, limited-overs form of this great game, where we'll see him sling the white rock for Mumbai Indians and for up to seven ODIs in India. After which, if fit, he'll come back to Oz for one or two Sheffield Shield matches that will, hopefully, feature big bags against Test batsmen.

Dare to dream. Because you might have to.

For he's an enigmatic cricketer, Our Mitch. A few years ago he was hurling the rock for multi-wicket hauls and thrashing big hundreds in Test cricket. Gee, he looked good. He looked fantastic. And people wondered and turned to their mates in pubs, and said, Keith Miller? And others replied, Heck yes Keith Miller, and Garry Sobers too. And so were beer nuts passed and the world turned until...

… the ill-fated Ashes series of '09 when his mum said things about his girlfriend in girls' gossip magazines and the Barmy Army sang songs about him, and he bowled more erratically than Saddam on the drink.

And there was a look in the eye equal parts confused and hurt, and he's never really come back from it, at least not in Test cricket. And so the great man Mr Lillee's prophecy that Johnson was a "once in a generation" bowler has not really borne fruit.

Until now? Who knows? Have you read nothing? The man could rip through the Poms like Bubonic plague or be plundered like Northumberland when Scandinavian Viking people discovered a taste for gold that was guarded by local priests with a policy of cheek-turning non-violence. Good times.

And so the question of our age remains: Mitchell Johnson? And the Agreed-Upon Answer of the Masses remains: dunno. He's capable of killing both teams in the same session. He can flog bowlers like a grown-up Ashton Agar. He can be Wasim Akram-unplayable or spray them like a machine gun set to random.

Met him a couple times and like the bloke, and would love him to get a gig. And given Australia's pace-bowling stocks feature injury to James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Jackson Bird and Ryan Harris, and the unavailability of Dennis Lillee, Our Mitch is actually looking pretty good for a start come day one in Brisbane. Indeed it's not out of the realms of deep space that the opening-day attack at the Gabba could read: PM Siddle, RJ Harris, MG Johnson and JP Faulkner.

And that, people, would not be the stupidest box of chocolates. You will not know what you're going to get. But my, it'll be interesting. I like it. Bring it, MJ.

Matt Cleary writes for several Australian sports and travel magazines. He tweets here