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.

Brydon Coverdale at the VCA Stadium

February 25, 2011

Comments: 20 | Text size: A | A

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.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by Aiden on (February 27, 2011, 1:50 GMT)

@Nerk If Johnson bowled like Khan then he would definitely not be in the Australian side. The fact that Zaheer is the best Indian pace bowler does not mean he's the best in the world. I find it hard to see him fitting into many other international teams. India's bowling attack and especially their pace bowlers must dramatically improve if they're any chance of winning the world cup at all.

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 26, 2011, 13:21 GMT)

Before the 3rd ball of 44th Over, Mitchell Jhonson seems to have scratched the ball with the nail of his thumb.... can some one in ICC please check the video and take Action....

Posted by Rajaram on (February 26, 2011, 10:06 GMT)

Australia will win the World Cup AGAIN, because they stick to their strengths.Just because the rest of the field thinks Spin is the way to go in India, doesn't shake the Aussies to drift with the crowd.Go, Aussies,go!

Posted by wayne on (February 26, 2011, 5:07 GMT)

Mitchell Johnson is so incredibly frustrating to watch when his confidence is low. When he gets it right, and his confidence is high, it's magic. It's likely he will never manage to be any other way than hot & cold. So we just have to appreciate the latter when he shows up, and grind our teeth the rest of the time when we've got the former.

Posted by Amit on (February 26, 2011, 1:31 GMT)

Good One Australia !! Looks like the team is gathering some momentum !

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 26, 2011, 1:24 GMT)

You'd have to ask, why doesn't he just bowl without thinking about it all the time? Try and think about what you're doing too much and you'll just over complicate the process.

Posted by M on (February 25, 2011, 22:27 GMT)

I think he will always take wickets here... he offers width to players that feel you have to go after widish balls to score... and then once a few have knicked the wide ones he bowls the perfect line yorker... his unpredictability is a major factor... ... with guys like Lee you can guess the over will go... outside off, outside off, bumper, half volley, outside off and bumper to finish... you can have a plan to that...

Posted by Basil on (February 25, 2011, 22:19 GMT)

What to make of this win? As an Aussie I can't help but think NZ batsmen helped us a bit. But when it was our turn to bat and it was game-on we started chasing them at 8 an over to take the game away. If this was Saf or Ind in our place we would all be thinking that these guys are looking very good. I love how no-one is really rating us.

Posted by John on (February 25, 2011, 20:56 GMT)

Australia played as expected. NZ, sadly, aren't the team they were just a couple of years ago though.They gave Oz another easy ride. The real acid test will be their next match up. The Sri Lanka game will indicate if Australia has any chance of lifting the trophy yet again.

Posted by django on (February 25, 2011, 20:26 GMT)

Spot on Bryon! One of the travesties of CA has been to try and do too much with Mitch. He just doesn't have the ability to swing it. When he just tries to hit a length and uses his natural angle and raw pace he is very, very effective. Its uncanny how many times he draws right handers into a shot that really isnt there. Sometimes when the stars align he does get it to swing and will then promptly win the game for us. The problem is that when he tries to swing it 9 out of 10 games he cant get it. He should be focused on being our enforcer!

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Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.

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