Mitchell Johnson, the most fearsome fast bowler in world cricket at the moment, is ready for the IPL. And Johnson, bought by Kings XI Punjab for INR 6.5 crore ($1.4m), has issued a warning: he will continue to deliver the menacing spells that destroyed the confidence and mental composure of some of the best international batsmen in the last six months. With his aggression, extreme speed and accuracy, Johnson not only etched bruises and caused pain but also helped Australia regain the Ashes before overwhelming South Africa, the world's No. 1 Test team, on their own turf.
The fear factor he managed to create, Johnson agreed, is likely to help him gain a psychological edge in the IPL. "Definitely it is a psychological advantage based on the past six months of my performances," Johnson said in a media call arranged by the franchise on Wednesday. "(I bowled) A lot of short-pitched bowling which was more effective on our bouncier wickets (in Australia and South Africa). But even on the last ODI series in India I definitely tried to bowl short-pitched deliveries.
"I have often said I really do enjoy the challenges of Indian wickets. I find that you can still get good bounce and pace out of them and I noticed that during the last IPL last year. It wasn't all just for the batsmen. I'm really excited playing on those wickets in India again and try and be intimidating as I have been in the last six months or so," he said.
Unfortunately for Johnson he was forced to miss the ongoing WT20 in Bangladesh due to a toe infection he picked up during the South Africa tour. The infection arose from a cut in his right big toe, a result of his marathon bowling spells during Australia's 2-1 Test series win in South Africa.
Johnson admitted the break came as a blessing after "a long summer which was quite draining" for him. "The toe is feeling much better. I had an infection that came from my toe, went into my foot and up my leg. But I got on top of it very quickly with some antibiotics. I have started training this week. I am feeling very good and I will be ready to go, ball one of the IPL," Johnson said.
During the time away from the cricket he was able do both strength training as well as technical stuff for which otherwise he would not have time for during a season. "I might be as well prepared as I am going to be fit. I am going to be fresher. I am going to very keen because it is a new club and I would like to impress. Whatever are the responsibilities are there I am really excited about them. I know how to perform at my best and I am feeling at the top of my game so I just want to keep getting better as a player and try and bring some of the young guys with me and try and improve their game," Johnson said.
This would be Johnson's second stint in the IPL after he made a spectacular debut with the Mumbai Indians last year, ending as joint third-best bowler with 24 wickets, and playing an influential hand in the franchise winnings its maiden title.
So was he disappointed that he was not retained by Mumbai? Johnson was measured in his response. "(It was) a new auction. Lot of players were in the auction pool this year and that made it very difficult for everyone. It would have been exciting to obviously go back there (Mumbai), but I am very happy with Kings XI Punjab," Johnson said.
Incidentally Johnson is the richest player Kings XI bought at the auction. His first task was to find out more about the way things work at Kings XI and for that he spoke to fellow Australian Adam Gilchrist, a former team-mate, who had been the captain at Kings XI for two years. "My manager talked to Adam Gilchrist, who said he really enjoyed a very special time there and it was a family-oriented atmosphere. I am not upset. I am not angry. I am not disappointed. This is the way it goes. I am now excited to play for the Kings and lead by example," he said.
Johnson followed the auction form South Africa where Australia were in the middle of the Test series. According to Johnson a lot of his team-mates agreed that Kings XI this year had picked a "very well balanced side". "Glenn Maxwell is in great form. He is a very exciting player. He showed the other night against Pakistan during the WT20 what he can do. Having him in the side is a huge bonus. Then we have Shaun Marsh, with whom I have played at Western Australia, an outstanding T20 player. Dave Miller can hit a long ball and that is what it is all about: hitting boundaries and the balls over the fence and getting crowds excited. Then obviously we have the experience of Sehwag, a batsman a lot of bowlers in the world struggle to bowl against. Rishi Dhawan is a good allrounder who was also with me to Mumbai, so it is a very good side," Johnson said.
Despite his growing appeal with ball in hand, Johnson agreed that he had to work on his batting in the limited-overs versions. His inability to get settled quickly has been a weakness, which Johnson indicated he wanted to improve on. "My batting has probably been lacking in the shorter forms because coming in late in the game it is quite hard to hit from ball one. It is about getting my eye in as quickly as possible. It is an important role batting lower order as the extra bit of runs are definitely handy in this form of the game. I always work on my batting and hopefully I can be fine with my bat as well," Johnson, whose Twenty20 average is about 10, said.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo