India v Australia 2008-09 / Features

India v Australia, 1st Test, Bangalore, 3rd day

Back-ups step up

Australia's back-up brigade, led by the energetic Mitchell Johnson, stepped up with a performance that is promising not just for this match, but the entire series

Ali Cook

October 11, 2008

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Running into India's star-heavy line-up has turned Johnson into a man © AFP
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The first choice for high-quality wickets on this pitch was Stuart Clark, and Brett Lee, whose speed should have been a severe concern on the uneven surface, was the second-best option.

Not today. Australia's back-up brigade, led by the energetic Mitchell Johnson, stepped up with a performance that is promising not just for this match, but the entire series.

Michael Clarke, with his part-time spin, was the only Australian in this team to have bowled in a Test in India before Friday and there were serious concerns about how the bowlers would operate as a unit.

Backed by thoughtful, restrictive field settings that frustrated the locals until Harbhajan Singh arrived, Australia were more cohesive than the home side had been in the field over the first two days.

They offered each other support, kept the situation tight when the biggest names were involved - they relaxed when they thought easy wickets were on offer - and forced India's specialist batsmen to consider unfamiliar scoring zones. Simply, they did what they said they would in the lead-up to the series.

The biggest - and most pleasant - development came in the form and shape of Johnson's sudden maturing. He has only been in the Test team for a year, playing ten Tests, but in that time has delivered more wayward spells than the fierce examinations that were expected since he was Queensland's most exciting teenager.

Last summer his tendency to produce an early series of wide balls became a popular joke in his home state. Today against India there were few problems with his radar and his reputation grew. The only surprise was that he wasn't used more by Ricky Ponting in the middle session, although Australia's over-rate problems were mainly to blame.

White will have bad days against India, but on Saturday his weakness - not being a massive spinner - turned into a strength. At the other end Clarke was getting the ball to jump and dart; when White skipped in the batsmen were looking initially for big turn. He nearly shocked Mahendra Singh Dhoni into leaving a ball that almost nudged off stump and grew in control and zip as he settled. Clarke forced another misjudgment to remove Dhoni and Australia's fears over their bowling have eased temporarily.

The fast bowling is in much better health due to Johnson's sudden and striking emergence. If the type of performance he showed on Saturday becomes routine the world's batsmen will stop thinking easy runs are available against the new Australia.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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