Johnson keen to get back focus
Shane Warne pointed the finger at his mum for giving him a banned drug, but Mitchell Johnson refuses to blame his mother for his off-the-rails Ashes campaign. At the start of the series, Vikki Harber said her son had been stolen by his girlfriend Jessica Bratich and since then Johnson has failed to regain the form that made him one of the world's most frightening bowlers.
"The message I want to say is hopefully things can work out and be resolved," Johnson told the Australian magazine Women's Day. "It probably might seem, at this time, like things have been distracting me. I was a bit disappointed with what has been going on, but I don't let things like that distract me. Otherwise, you are thinking about what's going on when you are in the field and you can't focus."
Johnson, who moved from Queensland to Western Australia last year to be closer to Bratich, has not been in contact with his mother since the start of the year, but told the magazine he hoped she would be at his wedding next May. While Harber has also rejected claims she was responsible for her son's poor Ashes form, which has contributed to Australia being 1-0 down, Johnson's interview continues to drag out the episode.
Despite his comments, Johnson has been terribly distracted and disjointed in the opening two Tests and those around the team believe the public nature of the issue has contributed to his slumping shoulders. He has also been desperate to fix an ailing action, with his low arm position causing severe uncertainty over his direction.
While he has eight wickets in the series, the victims have come at 41.37 apiece and he is giving away four runs an over. After a horrible performance at Lord's, where he struggled with the slope and delivered a host of short and wide offerings, there were few signs of recovery in his match return of 1 for 107 from 18.1 overs in the tour match against Northamptonshire.
Allan Border, the former Australia captain, believes Johnson should stand down for a week after he "totally lost his radar", and has prescribed 15 overs a day in the nets to re-find his form. "He won't have to worry about going at six an over like he did in the last Test," Border said in the Australian. "There won't be any of the pressure and scrutiny that comes with being in the middle of a Test match."
Despite their attack leader's awful slump, the Australians are determined to remember Johnson as the tormentor of South Africa and are likely to give him a final chance to re-find his power at Edgbaston from Thursday. "He got some pretty good pace [at Northampton] and was difficult to face in the nets today," Michael Clarke said. "He's on the way back, feeling more positive about how things are going, and looking forward to hopefully getting another opportunity on Thursday."
Clarke hasn't spoken to Johnson about his confidence levels but has talked to him about his on-field work. "He's still bowling at a good pace and in the practice game the other day, especially that last spell, he was back to really good pace," Clarke said. "I don't think results always indicate how well you bowl, he had a lot of runs go through slip and backward point."
With Brett Lee out after being limited to operating off a couple of steps in the nets, Stuart Clark is the biggest threat to Johnson or, possibly, Peter Siddle. However, the allrounders Shane Watson and Andrew McDonald may also come into contention depending on the weather.
The pitch is expected to be excellent for batting but rain is forecast for the early stages of the match, forcing the Australian selectors into what they believe is their toughest choice in three years as a panel. They plan another phone hook-up on the eve of the game.
Clark is fit and in reasonable form following elbow surgery and if he is left out it will continue a frustrating tour for a man who has 90 Test wickets at 22.96. "It's easy for anyone to get down when you're not getting an opportunity," Clarke said. "He's bowling well in the nets and he bowled really well in the practice game. He's looking forward to getting a chance, hopefully."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo