Anderson backs Johnson to shine again
Mitchell Johnson has found the unlikeliest of allies as he attempts to retain his place in the Australian line-up for the Edgbaston Test. James Anderson, the spearhead of the England attack, expressed supreme confidence that his opposite number would not only play in the third Test, but emerge from his extended form slump to again trouble England's batsmen.
"If I'd have had 18 months like he had, then two bad games, I would not expect to get dropped for the next game," Anderson said. "As a bowler, you do go through varying bits of forms. The last 18 months he's been the best bowler by a country mile for Australia and all their success has pretty much centred around him. For him to have a couple of bad Tests and for people to be getting on his back is a bit harsh. He's just going through a bit of a dodgy patch, and I think he's a good enough bowler to come through the other side."
Johnson's demoralising outing against Northamptonshire, in which he managed a solitary tailend wicket and conceded runs at almost six-per-over, has prompted speculation that he could be demoted from the Australian XI to accommodate the dependable Stuart Clark at Edgbaston. Such a move would hand Australia the unenviable task of overhauling their bowling blueprints mid-series, given that much of their planning had centred on Johnson thriving in the role of attack spearhead.
In four first-class matches on tour, Johnson has taken 12 wickets at an average of 50.33 with an economy rate of 4.44. His dismissal of David Wigley to close out the three-day match against Northam ended a 35-over wicketless streak that extended back to the first innings at Lord's, and his general inaccuracy has made it difficult for the Australians to build pressure in the field.
Still, despite Johnson's struggles, Ravi Bopara is expecting the left-armer to play at Edgbaston from Thursday. Bopara is acutely aware of Johnson's latent potential, having fallen to him in the first innings at Cardiff, and, like Anderson, believes the Australian paceman will turn his form around.
"He's proven himself at international cricket," Bopara said. "He's done it against South Africa, who are No. 2 in the world. For us, yes it is good that he hasn't quite done as well as he probably started off in South Africa. But good cricketers always bounce back.
"Personally, I'm budgeting on him being there. He's a strike bowler. If he's not, he's not. I'm not going to look too far into it. The game doesn't start until Thursday. I'll worry about it at 10.58am."
Bopara added that England had not discussed Johnson's negative body language, which has been so down at times that Tim Nielsen, the Australian coach, felt compelled to address it after the Lord's Test. "It's a natural thing in cricket," Bopara said. "If things ain't going your way, it's very hard to stay upbeat. You're just kidding yourself really. We've played enough cricket to know if the other team are going really well it's going to be difficult to keep jumping around and buzzing around. That's just the way it is."
The Australians have rallied around Johnson in the aftermath of the Lord's Test, deflecting media and public criticism at every opportunity. Brad Haddin is the latest to offer his backing to his out-of-form team-mate, noting that Johnson was still pounding the gloves on tour.
"He's had a very successful two years, his bowling was outstanding in South Africa," Haddin said. "He is still taking wickets for us and in his game he still feels pretty comfortable so I don't see that much of a difference. Obviously it was different conditions in South Africa that allowed the ball to swing a bit more and we're using different balls here that are probably starting to swing a bit later. From where I'm standing his pace is still up and it's all pretty good."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo