Johnson rides in Starc slipstream
One of the casualties of Australia's unduly disjointed World Cup schedule was Mitchell Johnson. Save for a ball that thudded into the arm of Brendon McCullum, his afternoon at Eden Park looked like the first net session of a new summer, an all-scrambled bowling radar and batting rhythm - he also made a duck.
Having effectively two weeks between game one and game two was a major obstacle for Johnson, given how he has shown himself to be unusually durable either side of a six-month hiatus from the game for foot surgery and some overdue work on his technical and mental approaches to the game in 2011-12.
Three games later and he is rediscovering his rhythm, also sitting happily in the slipstream of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood as Australia's designated first-change bowler. Johnson's least convincing display since Auckland actually came against Sri Lanka when a dry pitch and the selection of Xavier Doherty meant he reverted to taking the new ball.
"I think it's worked perfectly, he's got a lot of attention," Johnson said, smiling, of his left-arm off-sider Starc. "He's obviously bowling very well. He's done a really good job upfront for us. His career in one-cricket has, so far, been outstanding. He's always performed well for us in one-day cricket. It wasn't a surprise that he was going to perform like this through the World Cup as well.
"It's very important to play my role in the team. I've really enjoyed being a first-change or second-change bowler throughout this tournament. I think it's probably suited the team, me bowling at first change and Starcy using that new ball and swinging the ball around and Josh or Patty using it at the other end pushing into the breeze. It's worked really well. The balance that we've got with our bowling attack is really good at the moment.
"As for my bowling, I felt like it really clicked coming into the start of the real stuff now. I feel like I'm one of those bowlers that the more I bowl the better I feel with rhythm. We've had five [or more] days between games and we've been training, but I just feel like I'm starting to click now."
McCullum and Tillakaratne Dilshan have inflicted the sorts of indignities Johnson had experienced before his time away from the game but very seldom faced in the past 18 months. Dilshan's sextet of boundaries at the SCG made for memorable viewing, but Johnson has exhibited his recently-found maturity by being able to shrug it off.
"I'm ready for whatever's going to come at me, I'm not stressed about those things," he said. "That over against Dilshan it wasn't a horrific over. I probably just over-pitched at the start and then back of a length, and he got away with it. I probably bowled that one short ball I wasn't happy with, to be honest. The rest were OK.
"How I fought back from that was really good for me. To be able to come back and bowl late in the game and be able to bowl that way when the wicket didn't change. We thought it was going to slow down a bit but it was a still a pretty good wicket. We held our nerve and won the game. Luckily we'd scored a lot of runs."
Nevertheless, it doesn't sound like Johnson will be lobbying to keep the current ODI playing conditions in place should he ever find himself on the ICC cricket committee. "There's a couple of overs here and there that have gone for runs," he said, "But that's what we expect in this day and age of this game and with the way players play the game now. Two new balls with four fielders out makes it a little bit predictable.
"It is something I've expected throughout this tournament and with the way the game is. It will be interesting to see if there's a bit more pressure on how guys play the game. Coming into a quarter-final we'll see if guys are still prepared to play that type of cricket."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig