Yuvraj, Raina face Johnson test
He might bowl to the left, he might bowl to the right, but in limited-overs cricket, especially against slightly suspect left-hand batsmen, Mitchell Johnson's bowling is definitely not shite.
Australia's plan has been clear: let Johnson loose the moment Raina and Yuvraj come out to bat, even if it means bowling him for fewer overs with the new ball. Johnson to Yuvraj this series: five balls, one run, and two wickets. Johnson to Raina: 16 balls, 15 runs, and one wicket. These stats are consistent with the two batsmen's overall record against Johnson. Yuvraj struggles against him: 76 runs off 129 balls for five dismissals. Raina hits out, but gets out: 51 runs off 47 balls, but he has got out every 12 balls.
Before the ODI in Cuttack was washed out, leaving Australia a win away from taking the series, Shane Watson had spoken about getting these one-on-one contests right. "It's important to get our match-ups right," he had said. "When we are bowling against their batsmen, we have got our match-ups right. Mitch Johnson certainly provides a big x-factor for us. There are a couple of guys who aren't as comfortable against the short ball when compared to some of their other batsmen."
The identities of these batsmen are no secret. Yuvraj's first dismissal to Johnson was to a short ball outside off at searing pace. He fended and edged it, not dissimilarly to how he has done throughout his career. In the next, the ball wasn't that short, but Yuvraj was caught on the back foot and just pushed at it away from the body. Raina just went for a big pull, and edged it.
The bouncer works against these batsmen and it is a precise art. For one, it has to have Johnson's pace. Then, he has to be fresh and ready when these batsmen come in. And then Johnson has to execute the plan with precision. George Bailey has astutely kept him ready, bowling him for only three overs at the top. Watson said it was a deliberate ploy.
"It certainly has been [a plan]," Watson said. "No doubt. After seeing what happened in the Twenty20 in Rajkot, especially [with] Yuvi, when we didn't get our plans exactly right to him … he is an extremely talented player. If we give him a chance to get away, he certainly hits the ball very sweet.
"And also Suresh Raina, he is a high-quality, world-class player as well so we are very lucky to have Mitch bowling with the pace and the control that he has got at this point in time. Certainly a huge weapon for us. We know how important their middle order is for their success. You have seen it work so far throughout this series. Hopefully it can continue to work for a little bit longer."
For a team with two main batsmen suspect against high pace and bounce, India's overall batting results haven't been that bad. They even chased 360 successfully. Except in that game, in Jaipur, Raina and Yuvraj were not even required to bat. Watson can laugh about that. "We need to try to get to that stage," he said. "Even in Jaipur, we didn't get a chance to get to that middle order because the top order batted so well."
Struggling against Johnson in ODI cricket, if you are a left-hand batsman, is nothing to be ashamed of. Since he made his debut, Johnson has statistically been the best bowler to left-hand batsmen in one-day cricket. He is up there with the best overall too, but against left-hand batsmen, his 82 wickets at 17.24 are a cut above the rest.
The two remaining games, with India needing to win both to win the series, are a big test for Yuvraj and Raina. Unless they come in to bat after the 35th over or so, they will have Johnson fresh and waiting for them. How they counter him might even have repercussions on how they are used in the World Cup in Australia.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo