Australia v India, World Cup 2015, 2nd semi-final, Sydney March 26, 2015

Johnson drowns out tumult to down India

Amid a hostile atmosphere at the SCG, Mitchell Johnson's blows with bat and ball sent Australia soaring into the World Cup final
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Two thumbs up: Mitchell Johnson produced with bat and ball © Getty Images

Mitchell Johnson walked to the wicket at a moment when the SCG was more Pune than Paddington. Shane Watson had holed out to deep square leg, the Australia innings had stalled at the death and India supporters were rejoicing in anticipation of chasing something in the region of 310. A few overs before, the hosts and heavy favourites had been 232 for 2 and galloping, but now the quieter home contingent of supporters might easily have been in a library, so silent they had become.

In years gone past, Johnson had been unnerved by crowds. In England his brain and limbs were so scrambled by personal taunts relating to his family that he went into something of a meltdown at Lord's, just a few months from displays in lower-profile South African climes that led to him being named ICC cricketer of 2009. At this very SCG in January 2011 he was heckled all the way to the wicket and laughed all the way back, bowled by Chris Tremlett for a first-ball duck.

This time Johnson walked out into a similarly intimidating tumult, knowing that Australia did not have enough runs and there was precious little time left to get them. They needed a late burst and Johnson took it upon himself to provide it. He had only faced 11 balls all tournament, six weeks in all, and been dismissed by two of them. Somehow Johnson found a way to cajole his first three balls, from Mohammad Shami, to the boundary.

In the final over Johnson struck again, clattering Mohit Sharma's fourth and fifth balls for four over mid-off and then for six beyond wide long on. He walked off with 27 runs from nine balls to his name, and Australia had the sprint finish they so badly needed. Arguably, Johnson had just made his most pivotal contribution so far of a tournament at which he has sat behind Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood as the team's third paceman.

It was after Australia's reboot following the loss to New Zealand in Auckland that Johnson assumed the role of first-change bowler. He had been battered by Brendon McCullum with the new ball at Eden Park, though getting some of his own back by bruising New Zealand's captain with one of the few balls he put where he wanted. Instead of setting the agenda, Johnson would exploit gaps opened up by Starc and Hazlewood or probe for his own should they fail to strike early.

Johnson bored in on Kohli and the vital extra kilometres of pace he had been missing in his last Test match meeting with India proved the undoing of their No. 3

The tactic did not work against Sri Lanka in Sydney, when Tillakaratne Dilshan pulled off the trick of cuffing Johnson for boundaries every ball of an over. But there were no protests, no expressions of irritation that he did not get the new ball, and no sulks. Johnson was here to help win the tournament in whatever way he could. The runs at the back end of Australia's innings against India proved that beyond doubt, but he would add two spinal wickets to their number before the night was out.

During the India Tests, Johnson had slipped back a gear or two in pace as an acknowledgement of how flat the wickets were and how Australia needed him to bowl longer spells. It was an exhausted Johnson who was withdrawn from the team for the final Test with a minor hamstring strain, but also one who knew he could be faster again later in the summer. At the SCG it was his pace that would provide the difference Australia so desperately needed after Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan had made a fine start.

While Josh Hazlewood accounted for Dhawan, Johnson bored in on Virat Kohli, and the vital extra few kilometres of pace he had been missing in his last Test match meeting with India at the MCG proved the undoing of their No. 3. In December, Kohli had hooked and pulled Johnson with something like impunity. In the late March he was surprised to find the ball arrived faster and higher than before, a skied top edge plopping gently into Brad Haddin's gloves.

Next over, Rohit was intent on regaining momentum lost by the earlier wickets. One short ball was swung lustily for six in front of square, returning the crowd to the ecstasy of late afternoon. Johnson, though, was as focused as when he walked out to bat. Unable to summon swing, he instead looked for variation off the pitch, bowling a delivery cross-seam that skidded on while deviating just enough to catch Rohit's inside edge and his leg bail. That cheer for the six became a more guttural roar for the wicket.

Like the runs, these wickets were brief moments in a wider narrative. But they were as central to the tale as anything longer lasting. Michael Clarke said as much after the match, marvelling at Johnson's resolution but also pointing out how he has been steeled by past experiences, whether they be in England, Sydney or two previous World Cup campaigns.

"I've always said Mitchell making runs gives him confidence with the ball, I think tonight was a good example of that," Clarke said. "Mitch is a class performer. He probably hasn't had the standout tournament everybody expects of him all the time, because he's such a great performer you expect him to take five wickets every time he walks out on the field. But I think he's done a fantastic job for this team throughout this tournament.

"He's a wicket-taker, he's an X-factor, but he's got experience under pressure now. So a dangerous weapon to have. He's an example of someone who always puts the team first - he would love to open the bowling but he knows it's best for the team at the moment that he bowls first change. He hasn't blinked once at it, it doesn't bother him. He wants to win, that's what's most important."

Bowling first change, facing a raucous Indian crowd, pondering elimination, tiring at the end of a long summer. None of this fazed Johnson, as he made a contribution every one of his team-mates will remember. By the end of the night it felt once more like Australia's home World Cup, and Johnson had played large part in making it so.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jake on March 29, 2015, 20:25 GMT

    MJs bowling was awesome in the final. He always steps up in big games

  • Jake on March 29, 2015, 2:49 GMT

    May the best team win. The Aussie and Kiwis don't really care about the toss in a one day game. They will generally both back themselves regardless if they are setting a target or chasing.

  • clair on March 28, 2015, 11:20 GMT

    @INSIGHTFULCRICKETER your half right, if you win the toss and bat well it is very hard to chase down big scores because of run rate pressure, but to say all you have to do is win the toss in Australia to win the match is just laughable, Pakistan got thrashed in the quarters when they batted first, but they failed to put any scoreboard pressure on Australia and Aus chased it down with something like 18 overs to go. That example proves your theory wrong.

  • Ram on March 28, 2015, 7:45 GMT

    Kohli, and Rohit were unwise to have taken risk against the Mighy Mitch/Hazelwood while chasing in a knock-out game, while Yadav had no good reason to be sending that many wimpy short ones toward Smith.

  • Dummy4 on March 28, 2015, 4:50 GMT

    Terrifically written, enjoyed it hugely. Lovely piece - a reason why cricinfo is what it is.

  • Jake on March 28, 2015, 0:34 GMT

    Cricket is lucky to have MJ. Whenever he's on the field it's an exciting time. Batting or bowling. Once he retires, cricket will be worse of. It's never boring when MJ is out there competing

  • Steve on March 28, 2015, 0:14 GMT

    Mitch Johnson is what I call a big game player. Like several other Aussies before him, like, Dean Jones, Bret Lee, Ponting, Warne, Hayden, Gilchrist, Steve Waugh and McGrath, he produces performances that count when it really matters. That's why they have won most WC ODI titles thus far. I expect Aussies to handily beat NZ in the final. Johnson will outshine all other bowlers in his team in the final. That's no disrespect to NZ at all, I just think Aussies are that much tougher when the going gets tough.

  • Vinod on March 28, 2015, 0:07 GMT

    I think his comeback @ Rohit was good thinking. Mitch adds effect mostly when he zips his mouth and is more intense for what he intends to do .....i think if AUS are batting first, he is going to be a handful under the lights when the ball skids on.....also he seems to have become better and better @ the slower cross seam delivery....when on song is an awesome sight....all in all the final should be awesome

  • Bunty on March 27, 2015, 22:11 GMT

    On Australian roads it has been win the toss ,bat first and win the game. The art of batting and fast bowling is drowned. Congrats to Aussie on winning the toss in the semi-final.Well earned. Every thing else is minutae. Do not need to dwell. Captains need to practice coin tosses all night or doctor the coin so it flips your way :) save on practice.

  • Merv on March 27, 2015, 21:13 GMT

    Nice stuff Truth Bearer, if it was in fact true. Johnson and Steyn are the world's leading fast bowlers now and both have been hammered by batsmen with limited talent, no footwork and heavy bats and scaled down grounds in this WC. Reason, they both are truly fast and pitch up for swing and when there is none on these dry hard wickets, the result is lots of runs. NZ depend so much on Mc Callum and I suspect he is due for an early failure this time and it so it could be over quickly. NZ were desperately lucky to beat Australia and SA. However, both sides have done well in the WC and should be proud of their achievements. Australia have almost no rest time between matches towards the final and this should help NZ.

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