Johnson comes out of his shell
Mitchell Johnson delivered on a promise to team-mates to "puff my chest out" against England on Sunday despite his series-long struggles with the ball. Johnson was involved in a handful of disputes with the hosts on the fourth day and the manufactured aggression resulted in an up-and-down performance of 2 for 92 in 21 overs.
Johnson's form leading into the game was so bad he was considered a risk, but he improved with each spell until his verbals to Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad led to an expensive conclusion of 33 in his final four overs. "I probably let them off the hook a little bit," he told FoxSports. "I got caught up in the moment a little bit too much, but I was pretty happy with the way I went. I burred them up a little bit as well, which was good to see. I haven't done too much of it this series and that's what it all about."
Speaking about his cricket for the first time since the start of the Ashes, Johnson said the side, which is behind 1-0 in the five-match series, had been too quiet during the draw at Cardiff and the defeat at Lord's. "The whole team wanted to really stand up to these guys and show a bit more intent out there," he said. "In the first two Tests I was just bowling a ball and walking back, not really getting in their faces. Even if I said nothing, at least get in there and give a bit of a stare. Let them know that we're there."
If Johnson had followed up with verbals or evil eyes he would have looked even more out of place, especially given his wayward performances which contributed to England's success in London. The attempts of intimidation by the young pace attack, which also includes Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus, weren't overly effective at Edgbaston as Australia gave up a 113-run deficit on first innings. England's bright resistance from their tail-enders, led by Broad's 55, ensured the hosts finished the skirmishes on top.
The first signs of spice from Johnson came during a brief spell after lunch to Flintoff, who went on to muscle 74, and the pair swapped words and angry stares. "The aim for me was to be a bit more aggressive with my bowling," Johnson said. "To get in there, puff my chest out a little bit and get into the contest. That seemed to work for me. I started to feel a lot better about things." He picked up Ian Bell with a second strong lbw appeal and followed up with Swann's wicket when he chipped a slower ball to cover shortly before the innings ended at 376.
Johnson blamed his wild performances in his opening two Ashes Tests on putting too much pressure on himself - "I might have built it up a bit too much" - and maintained his form was not influenced by his mother saying his girlfriend had "stolen" him from the family. "Nothing on the outside affects the way I play my cricket," he said. "That's all left behind. It's all about what happens on the field."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo