ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
Australia v New Zealand, Group A, World Cup 2011, Nagpur
Sticking to strengths brings Johnson Indian success
In India, Johnson is not expected to swing the ball, so he is free to bowl in his natural style, angling the ball across with slight variations in movement off the pitch, and getting the occasional one to lift into the ribs.
February 25, 2011
Which foreign player has taken the most ODI wickets in India? Muttiah Muralitharan? Glenn McGrath? Courtney Walsh? Wrong, wrong and wrong again. As of today, it's Mitchell Johnson. After a year of frustrating Australian fans and testing the patience of the selectors, who finally dropped him during the Ashes, Johnson is looming as a key man at this World Cup, and he was instrumental in the seven-wicket win over New Zealand.
It was a double-wicket maiden from Johnson that sparked Australia's dominance in the field, and he returned to finish New Zealand off after they had climbed to a vaguely respectable score having milked the spin of Jason Krejza and Steven Smith. It gave him 4 for 33 to add to his figures of 4 for 19 in the opener against Zimbabwe, and he's an early leader on the tournament wicket tally.
And when he had last man Tim Southee caught skying an attempted slog, Johnson joined Winston Benjamin with 36 one-day wickets in India, although Benjamin took six more matches to get there. At first glance, it seems odd that one of Australia's most unpredictable fast men should thrive in conditions that offer pace bowlers so little assistance.
But in part, that's one of the secrets to Johnson's success here. In England and at times in Australia, he has tried to bend it like Beckham, only to spray it like a sprinkler. In India, there is no expectation that he will swing the ball, so he is free to bowl in his natural style, angling the ball across with slight variations in movement off the pitch, and getting the occasional one to lift into the ribs.
"It just suits my bowling, I guess, the bang-the-wicket kind of bowling that I like, and the change-ups that I use," Johnson said of bowling in India. "I just really enjoy the challenges over here of these conditions. I saw the game between the Netherlands and England and it looked like a pretty good wicket. I just had in the back of my mind I wanted to bang it in to the wicket like I did against Zimbabwe and probably not think about it too much, but just go out there and enjoy myself."
In Nagpur, he found just the right length and nipped the ball away a fraction to draw an edge from Jesse Ryder, a plan that he had spoken to Ricky Ponting about earlier in the spell, and three balls later James Franklin flashed outside off and edged behind. New Zealand sank to 6 for 73 soon afterwards, but Ponting put Johnson on ice while the spinners sped through the middle overs to make up time for a slow over rate.
In his first over back, Johnson struck again, trapping the half-centurion Nathan McCullum lbw. The ball pitched just inside the leg-stump line and kept going with the arm, and would have taken off stump. Johnson's speed and angle make him a tough customer when he's on song - and when he's not flinging wides - and he could be the big wicket-taker in an attack also featuring Brett Lee and Shaun Tait.
That should take nothing away from the efforts of Lee, who bowled superbly to keep the runs down early, tying down Martin Guptill, who was then bowled by Shane Watson. And Tait, despite spraying his first two balls for wides, picked up three wickets and shattered the stumps of Ross Taylor, who was beaten for pace.
"He probably hasn't bowled as well as he can with the brand new ball just yet, and today is a pretty good example of that," Ponting said of Tait. "He's just got to keep it in the back of his head that he's going to get probably four or five spells to come back and have an impact for us. He had an impact in his second spell today and his third spell. That's what we can keep up our sleeve with someone like him, we've always got that strike power when we need it."
Even Krejza, whose nine overs cost 47, won praise from the captain for bowling better than his figures suggested. He's another man who knows what it's like to take big bags in India, but he'll have to fight Johnson for the spoils in this World Cup.
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