March 24, 2009

Full speed ahead

Mitchell Johnson has moved from newbie to pace-bowling spearhead cum hard-hitting No. 8 double quick, and the best part is, he's not nearly done developing yet
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Mitchell Johnson's buccaneering innings at Newlands enhanced his reputation as an immensely talented cricketer likely to provide outstanding service to his team and rich entertainment to followers of the game over the next five or so years. His blistering batting outburst and impressive array of strokes may have merely delayed inevitable defeat, but they also revealed an exceptional eye and uncommon timing. With his free swing of the bat, willingness to take the ball on the rise and ability to direct it to all parts of the arena, Johnson is reminiscent of Adam Gilchrist. On this evidence he is a better batsman than Wasim Akram or Richard Hadlee, and a match for Kapil Dev. Already he averages 30 or so in Test cricket, a figure that escaped attention till he started belting the bowlers around in the first match of this series.

Admittedly this is high praise, yet Johnson's batting in South Africa has caused all and sundry to reassess his abilities. Certainly it is no longer feasible for the Australians to send him out at seventh wicket down. Not that he is the finished product. Over the years Johnson has not taken his batting all that seriously, and accordingly bits and pieces of maturity have been left behind. For instance, he is inclined towards daft dismissals early in his innings, ignoring straight deliveries and so forth, and then departing with a rueful smile that tells of the unplanned life. Once set, though, he gets on top of the bowling with such alacrity and conviction that presently defensive frailties pale into insignificance.

At Newlands, and before, at the Wanderers, Johnson was unsparing against pace and spin, scored runs off both feet and on both sides of the wicket. He plays with the free swing of the bat that indicates an uncluttered mind and that batting remains his second string. Although his swing is generous it is not lusty, for passion plays no part in his cricket. To the contrary he is an open sort of man, almost goofy at times, and bats along these lines. He hits the ball hard without apparent effort, clears fieldsmen without appearing to strain. Perhaps that is his secret. With bat and ball Johnson relies on ease and fluency, as opposed to muscle. Not that he lacks strength. By all accounts colleagues are reluctant to tackle him in the forthright games sporting teams play now and then by way of letting off steam. Suffice it to say that his game depends more on flow than explosion.

Johnson played all manner of shots in his first Test hundred, including extra-cover-drives taken on the rise, stylish strokes past mid-on, pulls that peppered the stands behind midwicket, and even nudges that forced distant fieldsmen to scurry in to prevent a second run. When Paul Harris pushed eight fieldsmen back to the ropes, Johnson responded by clearing all of them. Rumpelstiltskin could not have caught his lofted straight-drive. Poised on 95 and with wickets starting to tumble, Johnson found himself facing Dale Steyn with all South Africa patrolling the exterior. Again, he did not hold back. Steyn sent down a bumper and the Queenslander hooked it over the boundary. Not a bad way to reach a Test hundred. It had been his 86th ball.

Admittedly the innings had been played in a lost cause, against a weary attack and on a pitch as flat as a table top. But that had not been true in Johannesburg, where Johnson reached an unbeaten 96 only to run out of partners. In any case it hardly explained the breathtaking shots played by the lanky left-hander or the spirit that lay behind them. Hereafter Johnson's batting will be considered by every opponent. His innings set him apart as a cricketer whose boundaries remain unknown, whose abilities have not been fully explored; a player without meanness, a late developer still learning the skills of the game, a work in progress.

Amidst all these reflections it is worth remembering that Johnson is first and foremost a fast bowler. For that matter, he is ranked among the top two pace bowlers in the world. At this juncture he is the only Australian confident of securing a position in a world XI, and that as a bowler alone. Besides his runs, he took 16 wickets in the recently completed series, was Australia's best bowler on the subcontinent, and between times held the attack together in the antipodes. His only bad spells came after a rest. During the southern summer he was given a week's holiday and took another week to rediscover his rhythm. Australia enjoyed a break between Tests in Africa and on his return Johnson was about as accurate as a government statistic.

Otherwise he has been reliable, willing and fit. Certainly he has been blessed with remarkable stamina and athleticism. To watch him field off his own bowling tells the story. He has run batsmen out from short leg by dashing, collecting, swivelling and throwing stumps down, all in a flash and without breaking stride. His body seems to be made of rubber. Sachin Tendulkar was removed this way in Adelaide in 2008, and others have made the mistake of underestimating Johnson's speed of thought and foot.

Over the last month or so, he has made another, even more critical, improvement in his cricket, a change that had a big influence on the series. Throughout the Indian tour and again at home, in countless Test and one-day matches, he relied on movement away from the bat, achieved by cutting his fingers across the ball. Apart from that he depended on pace, bounce and perseverance. At times he seemed to take wickets luckily as batsman after batsman tried to drive through the covers and sliced to gully or edged to slip. Observers were surprised batsmen lacked the sense and patience to ignore deliveries heading away from the sticks. Hereabouts he seemed to be a one-trick pony.

With his free swing of the bat, willingness to take the ball on the rise and ability to direct it to all parts of the arena, Johnson is reminiscent of Adam Gilchrist. On this evidence he is a better batsman than Wasim Akram or Richard Hadlee, and a match for Kapil Dev

Certainly the South African returned to base convinced that Johnson could only send the ball away from right-handers. Then he bowled his opening over at the Wanderers. Immediately it was obvious that his action had changed. Previously his arm had been lower and his action slingy. Now he reached for the skies and his wrist was straight. Nonplussed, Graeme Smith groped and edged to the keeper. Hashim Amla arrived and found the ball swinging back into him. In the few weeks between series Johnson had learned to bowl an inswinger. In that moment Australia's chances of subduing South African aspiration and English presumption surged. Now batsmen had to play at wider deliveries. Now it was feasible for even the most discreet to edge catches behind the wicket. In Durban, Amla fell plumb leg-before-wicket to the inswinger, a delivery that continued to trouble batsmen.

Fortunately for batsmen, Johnson is not yet in complete control of his action. At present he tends to bowl spells of swingers with the new ball and cutters with the old ball. If the ball refuses to swing even from the packet, then he will revert to his old style. Otherwise he will attack the stumps, seeking leg-befores and catches at short leg, means of dismissal almost irrelevant a few months ago. Not that he concentrates only on movement. At Kingsmead he suddenly unleashed a fiery spell that contained numerous deliveries lifting sharply off a previously docile pitch. Smith ended up with a broken finger and Jacques Kallis' chin was badly bruised. In a few overs Johnson inconvenienced and hurt two of the best and bravest batsmen in the world. Not that he is a brutal bowler, a Lillee with his scowl or a Thommo with his thunderbolts. There is no menace in Johnson, merely danger in his bowling. Apart from anything else, Johnson does not like to stand out. His highest aim is to play his part.

It is all a far cry from the hesitant cricketer first heard about a decade ago. In hindsight the early acclaim and dramatic promotion may not have helped him. By nature shy, Johnson was plucked from obscurity as an 18-year-old after Dennis Lillee saw him send down a few deliveries in the nets. Lillee rang Rod Marsh and told him to put the unknown left-armer in his squad for the forthcoming Under-19 World Cup. It says something for Marsh's faith and Australia's flexibility that the instruction was obeyed.

But Johnson lacked the depth of knowledge and thick skin needed to absorb this exposure. Probably he was uncomfortable with the fame and expectation, did not feel ready. Accordingly he did not grab the opportunity so much as find ways of avoiding the limelight. Injuries and sporadic appearances followed. Australians remained excited about the bolter emerging in the northern backwaters, but as the injuries mounted and the excesses grew, so frustration set in. Now and then Johnson played for his state and often left his mark, but he seemed reluctant to embrace his gift. Instead he yearned to remain with his mates and to lead the unknown life.

Eventually he found himself driving a plumber's van around Townsville and playing club cricket. He seemed happy enough. Luckily his employer and friend was having none of it. One day the pals watched the Australians play on TV and the older man turned to his driver and said "Well, Mitch, what do you want to do? Drive a van or join these blokes?" It was the right question at the right time. By now Johnson was ready to go into the flames. Of course the same point had been put to him before, a thousand times by a thousand friends. Always he had baulked at it. Johnson needed to sort himself out. Maybe he needed to drive a van around a bush town for a few years. Maybe it was not a waste. Maybe it saved his career, allowed him to settle, to grow up, to establish his life and priorities so that he came to cricket willingly, was not ambushed by a game and a talent that he had not chosen.

At any rate it has not taken Johnson long to make up the lost ground. In a few months he has learnt how to bat and send down an inswinger. He has also learnt a more important lesson, about taking responsibility and dealing with pressure. It has been the making of him and all the evidence suggests that it might also be the making of this reformed Australian team.

Peter Roebuck is a former captain of Somerset and the author, most recently, of In It to Win It

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Undeterred on March 26, 2009, 3:22 GMT

    Mitchell Johnson is foremost a premiere fast bowler, and secondly a more balanced and technically correct batsman than his bowling team-mates. Despite the relatively lofty batting average for a number 8, Mitchell Johnson should continue to bat at 8. Australia's specialist batsmen should be scoring runs (I'm looking at you Clarke and Hussey). Having Johnson at 8 is a bonus, a luxury that opposition teams surely look upon with envy. Johnson at 8 could even be intimidating for opposition sides, so leave him there. The worst Australia could do is bat him up the order, and certainly he should not ever be considered as a nightwatchman, itself a questionable tactic unless Jason Gillespie is in the team ... Let sanity prevail and keep Johnson at 8. And may he break many more heads and hands with the ball.

  • AliT72 on March 25, 2009, 11:43 GMT

    Obviously a lot of folks saying that Johnson isn't as good a bat as Wasim Akram, Richard Hadlee, and Kapil Dev haven't cast their eyes over the stats. Johnson is much better statistically than Kapil in bowling and batting averages and strike rate. Kapil took a lot of wickets, but let's see how Johnson stacks up at the end of his career. Already though he clearly has more shots and confidence as a batsman than all three of the afore mentioned. He's unlikely to match Akram and Hadlee on bowling averages but as a batsmen - if he can find consistency - he will far outshine all three. Looking at Botham's stats - you could imagine Johnson finishing up with similar career stats if his body holds up.

  • palfeb3_1987 on March 25, 2009, 9:50 GMT

    Jhonson is a remarkable player. His slinging action when accurate can dismiss the game's greats without question. He has been a very effective bowler since arrived at the international scene. His talented batting is a welcome addition for the Australian team as its top order is really inconsistent. Without doubt he will churn quite a lot of runs when needed by his team. But i suspect if he has been that effective in the ODI's. For the past two years we have seen the Australian team getting all out. If so, i can't remember an innings in the ODI's when he has made an impact with his batting. But needless to say if he has been an impact all rounder in the tests he will be an all rounder in all formats of the game.

  • riteshjsr on March 25, 2009, 6:22 GMT

    To Shangomega - I guess you either didn't read or comprehend what I had written in my comment before spewing vitriol against me. So, at the cost of repeating myself, I enjoy watching Johnson bowl and I think he's one of the best bowlers in the world right now. The delivery that swings into the right hander is a great addition to his arsenal and we'll see him destroying some batting lineups in the months to come. All I am saying is that the media / team management should not put too much pressure on him by calling him an allrounder and comparing him to Kapil Dev or for that matter even Botham or Imran. Now, Kapil,Botham and Imran were way better batsmen than Johnson, weren't they? So, Johnson's batting needs to be treated as a bonus and he should continue to focus on his bowling. A suggestion that I'd like to give you is do not try to generalize / use stereotypes when you make comments (e.g. chirping Indian bandwagon). It is in poor taste. Thanks. Ritesh

  • luv4Cricket on March 25, 2009, 5:57 GMT

    I would say that it's yet too early to rate Johnson as a true all-rounder, and comparing him with Kapil and the likes is a total stupidity. Come on guys, he's an exciting cricketer, good bowler and has suddenly discovered his batting ability! If he can turn himself into a match-winning all-rounder it'll be great! But why overrate him now? Australia have already suffered the lose of Watson, who couldn't handle the pressure well, of serving the team as an all-rounder. It's very natural that a pace-bowling all-rounder has to work very hard, and thus often struggle with injuries and to retain his form. Lance Klusener, for example had to give up just before becoming a true great!! Kallis on the other hand is a miracle. I just wonder how can a top-order batsman become so effective with seam bowling!! Spinning all-rounders usually find it less hard, but still there are very few in modern days (ex: Jayasuriya).

  • Mad_Hamish on March 25, 2009, 3:42 GMT

    In response to ChakDeIndia_007 bowling Johnson current averages 28.01, Kapil Dev averaged 29.64. Admittedly with only 94 wickets it's still early in Johnson's career but the bowling average is pretty good.

  • Mad_Hamish on March 25, 2009, 2:48 GMT

    nafzak, interesting rating on Imran. I'd say that the names in contention for best allrounder are (not in order) Faulkner Sobers Miller Rhodes Kallis Imran

    how they're rated largely depends on how important you rate the batting and bowling contributions. Miller and Imran are the best bowlers amongst them, Sobers and Kallis the best batsmen amongst them.

  • andrew-schulz on March 25, 2009, 2:28 GMT

    Peter Roebuck's assessment of Johnson has been myopic from the start-he's finally woken up. On radio during the Nagpur Test, his comment was 'Johnson has done nothing' after a spell of 10 overs, none for 19. He'd beaten Sehwag's edge on 8 occasions in that ten over spell, yet Roebuck and Jim Maxwell went back to questioning his Test place. Then there seemed to be genuine mirth when they checked the series leading wicket-takers and found Johnson on top. Truly ignorant stuff. And Peter, his batting has not snuck up on us-he was averaging 99 early in his Test career, and he'd only batted against India. Prad, how about watching the game.

  • DesVenin on March 25, 2009, 2:26 GMT

    At pradeepanonline, did you even watch the series? If you had, you'd know that he can move the ball. Which was also stated in this article.I'm beginning to wonder if you've even read the article. Because it also states in there that Johnson went through several injuries before making his debut, so there goes your other argument. And how can being fit and strong NOT help him in the long run? If anything, being as fit as he is will likely help him return from injury a lot better, and help him manage the massive workload he's had to undertake recently. You sound like some pessimist looking for any reason to keep Johnson out of the limelight, and stop him from receiving any recognition. Next time you try, make sure your arguments make sense.

  • J_Boyd on March 25, 2009, 2:12 GMT

    pradeepanonline, don't worry, there's no need to apologise, because you obviously haven't seen him play much. He started off swinging the ball. Back in 2006 at the DLF Cup he got Lara, Tendulkar, Dravid, Pathan and Yuvraj Singh with seam, swing and pace. Then his arm dropped and the swing disappeared. And now it's back. Anyway, 94 wickets, 21 matches, avg. 28, I don't think he's too worried about how he gets his wickets. His runs are just a bonus, but I can't remember seeing a number 8 or 9 with a better technique, or as good an eye, or as strong a hitter, he'll make more 50's and 100's for sure

  • Undeterred on March 26, 2009, 3:22 GMT

    Mitchell Johnson is foremost a premiere fast bowler, and secondly a more balanced and technically correct batsman than his bowling team-mates. Despite the relatively lofty batting average for a number 8, Mitchell Johnson should continue to bat at 8. Australia's specialist batsmen should be scoring runs (I'm looking at you Clarke and Hussey). Having Johnson at 8 is a bonus, a luxury that opposition teams surely look upon with envy. Johnson at 8 could even be intimidating for opposition sides, so leave him there. The worst Australia could do is bat him up the order, and certainly he should not ever be considered as a nightwatchman, itself a questionable tactic unless Jason Gillespie is in the team ... Let sanity prevail and keep Johnson at 8. And may he break many more heads and hands with the ball.

  • AliT72 on March 25, 2009, 11:43 GMT

    Obviously a lot of folks saying that Johnson isn't as good a bat as Wasim Akram, Richard Hadlee, and Kapil Dev haven't cast their eyes over the stats. Johnson is much better statistically than Kapil in bowling and batting averages and strike rate. Kapil took a lot of wickets, but let's see how Johnson stacks up at the end of his career. Already though he clearly has more shots and confidence as a batsman than all three of the afore mentioned. He's unlikely to match Akram and Hadlee on bowling averages but as a batsmen - if he can find consistency - he will far outshine all three. Looking at Botham's stats - you could imagine Johnson finishing up with similar career stats if his body holds up.

  • palfeb3_1987 on March 25, 2009, 9:50 GMT

    Jhonson is a remarkable player. His slinging action when accurate can dismiss the game's greats without question. He has been a very effective bowler since arrived at the international scene. His talented batting is a welcome addition for the Australian team as its top order is really inconsistent. Without doubt he will churn quite a lot of runs when needed by his team. But i suspect if he has been that effective in the ODI's. For the past two years we have seen the Australian team getting all out. If so, i can't remember an innings in the ODI's when he has made an impact with his batting. But needless to say if he has been an impact all rounder in the tests he will be an all rounder in all formats of the game.

  • riteshjsr on March 25, 2009, 6:22 GMT

    To Shangomega - I guess you either didn't read or comprehend what I had written in my comment before spewing vitriol against me. So, at the cost of repeating myself, I enjoy watching Johnson bowl and I think he's one of the best bowlers in the world right now. The delivery that swings into the right hander is a great addition to his arsenal and we'll see him destroying some batting lineups in the months to come. All I am saying is that the media / team management should not put too much pressure on him by calling him an allrounder and comparing him to Kapil Dev or for that matter even Botham or Imran. Now, Kapil,Botham and Imran were way better batsmen than Johnson, weren't they? So, Johnson's batting needs to be treated as a bonus and he should continue to focus on his bowling. A suggestion that I'd like to give you is do not try to generalize / use stereotypes when you make comments (e.g. chirping Indian bandwagon). It is in poor taste. Thanks. Ritesh

  • luv4Cricket on March 25, 2009, 5:57 GMT

    I would say that it's yet too early to rate Johnson as a true all-rounder, and comparing him with Kapil and the likes is a total stupidity. Come on guys, he's an exciting cricketer, good bowler and has suddenly discovered his batting ability! If he can turn himself into a match-winning all-rounder it'll be great! But why overrate him now? Australia have already suffered the lose of Watson, who couldn't handle the pressure well, of serving the team as an all-rounder. It's very natural that a pace-bowling all-rounder has to work very hard, and thus often struggle with injuries and to retain his form. Lance Klusener, for example had to give up just before becoming a true great!! Kallis on the other hand is a miracle. I just wonder how can a top-order batsman become so effective with seam bowling!! Spinning all-rounders usually find it less hard, but still there are very few in modern days (ex: Jayasuriya).

  • Mad_Hamish on March 25, 2009, 3:42 GMT

    In response to ChakDeIndia_007 bowling Johnson current averages 28.01, Kapil Dev averaged 29.64. Admittedly with only 94 wickets it's still early in Johnson's career but the bowling average is pretty good.

  • Mad_Hamish on March 25, 2009, 2:48 GMT

    nafzak, interesting rating on Imran. I'd say that the names in contention for best allrounder are (not in order) Faulkner Sobers Miller Rhodes Kallis Imran

    how they're rated largely depends on how important you rate the batting and bowling contributions. Miller and Imran are the best bowlers amongst them, Sobers and Kallis the best batsmen amongst them.

  • andrew-schulz on March 25, 2009, 2:28 GMT

    Peter Roebuck's assessment of Johnson has been myopic from the start-he's finally woken up. On radio during the Nagpur Test, his comment was 'Johnson has done nothing' after a spell of 10 overs, none for 19. He'd beaten Sehwag's edge on 8 occasions in that ten over spell, yet Roebuck and Jim Maxwell went back to questioning his Test place. Then there seemed to be genuine mirth when they checked the series leading wicket-takers and found Johnson on top. Truly ignorant stuff. And Peter, his batting has not snuck up on us-he was averaging 99 early in his Test career, and he'd only batted against India. Prad, how about watching the game.

  • DesVenin on March 25, 2009, 2:26 GMT

    At pradeepanonline, did you even watch the series? If you had, you'd know that he can move the ball. Which was also stated in this article.I'm beginning to wonder if you've even read the article. Because it also states in there that Johnson went through several injuries before making his debut, so there goes your other argument. And how can being fit and strong NOT help him in the long run? If anything, being as fit as he is will likely help him return from injury a lot better, and help him manage the massive workload he's had to undertake recently. You sound like some pessimist looking for any reason to keep Johnson out of the limelight, and stop him from receiving any recognition. Next time you try, make sure your arguments make sense.

  • J_Boyd on March 25, 2009, 2:12 GMT

    pradeepanonline, don't worry, there's no need to apologise, because you obviously haven't seen him play much. He started off swinging the ball. Back in 2006 at the DLF Cup he got Lara, Tendulkar, Dravid, Pathan and Yuvraj Singh with seam, swing and pace. Then his arm dropped and the swing disappeared. And now it's back. Anyway, 94 wickets, 21 matches, avg. 28, I don't think he's too worried about how he gets his wickets. His runs are just a bonus, but I can't remember seeing a number 8 or 9 with a better technique, or as good an eye, or as strong a hitter, he'll make more 50's and 100's for sure

  • __PK on March 25, 2009, 1:58 GMT

    I think pradeepanonline must have written his comments about five years ago, not read the above article and not have heard of Mitchell Johnson before. The series in South Africa has shown he can move the ball naturally (he was always a prolific reverse-swinger). He has already recovered from several injuries, before he made his test debut. But I love Nipun's comments! First time I've ever heard anyone suggest that maybe the bowlers of yesteryear weren't better than those of today - maybe the batsmen were worse. After all, cricket is a zero-sum game - low bowling averages necessarily mean low batting averages, regardless of the quality of the cricketers.

  • Revnq on March 25, 2009, 0:59 GMT

    pradeepanonline - get real mate. Johnson has battled back injuries his whole career, but thanks to his attitude he has been able to overcome them. And he can't move the ball naturally? Did you watch the last series? Oh and for the record, Kapil Dev is not a top notch batsman, the guy averaged 30 for God's sake. He was an awesome bowler, great all-rounder, and a handy batsman, much like I hope Mitchell Johnson turns out to be.

  • nafzak on March 25, 2009, 0:45 GMT

    It's too early for comparisons. The Great Khan - Imran Khan was in my opinion the best ever all rounder. Sobers a close 2nd. Imran played from 1971 - 1992 and from 1982 - 1992 he scored over 2,500 runs at an astounding average of just over 51 per innings. He also scored 8 centuries at a rate of 1 per 15 tests.

  • MrKricket on March 24, 2009, 23:51 GMT

    "Can't wait to see him plant Flintoff over Father Time at Lords and deposit the pill in the Thames." (by Chiller38) That would be some hit! A mere 5 km or so.

    Johnson will keep going provided he gets support at the other end. Hopefully Siddle will not be injury prone which will help sustain Johnson's career. The third bowler needs to put up his hand too - maybe it's Hilfy. Where's our spin king? Katich and North the spin twins? If johnson can keep up the good work with his batting and the top order learns from him (note to Clarke, Hussey) then the Australian fall won't be as great as predicted.

  • Mad_Hamish on March 24, 2009, 22:41 GMT

    in response to pradeepanonline My understanding is that he used to swing the ball into the right hander consistantly but he had to remodel his action after repeated back problems and lost the ability to swing it in. In the Australian summer he showed that he could move the ball away from the right hander and he seems to have regained the inswinger on the tour of South Africa (see if you can find the Amla lbw from the second test). There is the question of whether he can swing the Kookaburra in as it seems harder to get swing with. As for coming back from injury he's already had a lot of back problems before he cemented a place in first class cricket.

    So he's got to maintain performance to justify the rating but I don't think that your comments are overly valid.

  • jamrith on March 24, 2009, 22:37 GMT

    Johnson is good, very good, and may prove a destructive force in the Ashes, but already the typical Aussie hubris is showing, the glares, the inane chatter and abuse etc; all of-course conveniently swept under the rubric of "aggression". You don't have to act mean and nasty to be a quality fast bowler--- the great West Indians, as well as Wasim Akram, Richard Hadlee, and Kapil Dev are some shining examples from the past,and among the current crop, Brett Lee and Stuart Clask always acquit themselves with grace.

  • mmoosa on March 24, 2009, 19:47 GMT

    Johnsons a serious talent and on fast/bouncy wickets he is brutal,intimidatory and dangerous. This guy is going to leave lots of batters bruised and battered on quick wickets-absolutely relentless.He relies on his brute strength and on the quick kingsmead pitch was terrifyingly intimidating. His ability to cut the ball at over 145kms is unique and is simply the best left arm quick to have played against S.A in the past 16 years since readmission.

  • faisalj on March 24, 2009, 19:07 GMT

    It seems that contributors have become obsessed with drawing comparisons between Johnson and Kapil. I don't think that is the point of the article even though the writer must be credited with leading readers up that path. In fact he can also be accused of missing out two important names-Botham and Imran Khan. Comparisons are never a good idea as a lot has to be taken into consideration-circumstances under which contributions are made, team constitution, where the cricket was played, quality of opposition etc. I think it would be reasonable to conclude that Johnson has displayed exciting talent and promise. His uninhibited hitting in South Africa was exciting and showed a spirit and willingness to take the game to the opposition no matter how hopeless the situation may seem. That was a display of character that winning teams thrive on. Long way to go yet but the promise that expectations rest on is there. Reminded me of Akram's 100 in Australia.Thanks for the entertainment!

  • ChakDeIndia_007 on March 24, 2009, 17:20 GMT

    Its good that in modern cricket we have so many bowlers who can hit the ball very hard, but what about their bowling average??? It's very premature to compare Jhonson with Great Kapil Dev.

  • Boonys_army on March 24, 2009, 17:14 GMT

    One more thing Prad. You mentioned he's never been injured. Here's a quote from the Cricinfo player profile on MJ "he was given a full Cricket Australia contract only two years after driving a delivery truck and considering walking away from the game because of his fourth back stress injury." I wont say any more on that, I think it speaks for itself. Oh and here's a link foo the coming of age of his inswinger. http://content.cricinfo.com/ci/content/story/395497.html

    Your posts are a waste of bandwidth

  • Boonys_army on March 24, 2009, 17:03 GMT

    Prad - Did you watch the Test series???? Do you think a respected Journo like Roebuck is making stuff up when describing how Mitch got the ball to swing back into the RH'ers? Your comment reeks of ignorance... sorry.

  • VipulPatki on March 24, 2009, 16:40 GMT

    I couldn't read the whole article but yes, comparison with Gilly is a bit too much. That said, however, I always felt that he is the most underrated allrounder. Commentators talk about Freddie, Kallis but I think he is a dependable batsman as well and a first rate bowler. With his helmets on, he sometimes reminds me of Michael Bevan. He is definitely a player to watch out for.

  • nafzak on March 24, 2009, 16:33 GMT

    Too early to campare with the great all rounders. And let's not forget the wrath of the Great Khan. Imran Khan that is! 6 hundreds in 88 matches (1 per 15 innings if you are counting) with an average of over 37 runs per innings. Imran played from 1971 to 1992 and if you break down his career in half - from the beginning of 1982 to the end of his test career in 1992, he scored 2,516 runs and averaged a whopping 51.35 with the bat. How may specialist batsmen average 50 runs per in the last half of their career? Imran was no rabbit with the bat for sure. We all know that he was one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time. Add to that he was Pakistan's greatest captain and of the best of his and any era. Imran Kan.. take it from this West Indian, was and remains teh greatest all rounder to ever play the game. Sorry Sir Garry St. Auburn Sobers who is 2nd on my list.

  • StJohn on March 24, 2009, 15:44 GMT

    What a great cricketer and an exciting talent. It's true that MJ's form and performance needs to be tested over a longer period to really see how he compares with others. But based on present evidence, he is one of the game's most exciting current talents. I wouldn't take anything away from his century because it was made in a hopeless situation: in a way, that tends to emphasise how good he is rather than how good he isn't - after all, it's not his fault he top scored for the Aussies and their failures in the 2nd innings show how good he is. And as an Englishman, I don't much look forward to us facing a pace attack of Johnson, Siddle, Clark and Lee this summer, which will be the best pace attack to have visited England for many years.

  • Test_Match_Fan on March 24, 2009, 15:08 GMT

    Johnson is perhaps the most exciting cricketer in the world just now. Don;t forget his blazing half century and the partnership with Stuart Clark at Perth against India. He definitely gave some butterflies in the stomachs of Indian fans. Test cricket needs Australia to keep doing well and need more Mitchel Johnsons. Cannot leave the Test cricket standards to the Indians....or for that matter to anyone else

  • Avid.Cricket.Watcher on March 24, 2009, 14:03 GMT

    Just an aside to "99.96" - pretty cool username mate, however, the Don's average was actually 99.94. (not meant to be snippy...just pointing out the little inaccuracy...after all, that surely has to be the No. 1 statistic in our sport!)

  • pradeepanonline on March 24, 2009, 13:59 GMT

    Sorry. he can not swing/move the ball naturally. Unless he develops that, he will never become great. and lets wait for judging a bowler until after he returns from his first injury. Being extremely fit, strong & being able to bowl 90mph without movement may help now, but not in the long run.

    btw, I have nothing against him or his batting. Just that if he wants to continue being the #1 Aussie striker, he has to learn moving the ball - very soon.

    - Prad.

  • peeeeet on March 24, 2009, 13:25 GMT

    Lets not forget one thing about this century - it was scored when Australia really had NO chance of winning, and swinging the bat was about all they could do, much the same as his maiden 50 against India at Perth. I'm not trying to take anything away from it cos it was a great knock none the less, but we have to be careful about labelling him as an allrounder until he consistently scores runs in times when the team needs them (like his 96*), and we also don't want to see his bowling slip away cos thats where his worth is greater. Still incredibly exciting to see his development though!!

  • Nipun on March 24, 2009, 13:01 GMT

    I don't understand the comparison of past players with current players.Most past players,except for the Gavaskars,could not even hold the bat properly,leave alone balanced stance at the crease & playing properly executed cricket shots.That even then they ended up scoring so many runs speaks volumes about the poor quality of the bowling & fielding at that age.We hear that fast bowlers of the 80s could take bundles of wickets on flat tracks.Well,that was inevitable with unbalanced batsmen at the crease.All types of current players-batsmen,bowlers,& fielders-are much better than the players of the 80s(no disrespect to them,by the way).Current bowlers now have to bowl against orthodox,balanced batsmen & hence they find it seemingly difficult.

  • RajivNaik on March 24, 2009, 11:58 GMT

    What a fantastic piece of writing. I've been a fan of your ability to analyze issues for a while now, but this one stands out for style. Every aspect of the cricketer that Mitchell Johnson is, every notable highlight in his recent career, have been woven together with those little strings of personal detail that make great writing. Suffice it to say that if Johnson were to read this article, he would probably give a thoughtful nod and smile for an insight that he might have had, but yet not grasped completely.

  • boooonnie on March 24, 2009, 11:30 GMT

    Johnson should remain batting at No 7 as it allows him to play his natural game with freedom. Start bringing him up the order with the pressure of being an alrounder and it may well add unneeded pressure to both aspects of his game. If you are on good thing, stick to it.

  • Your_Mom on March 24, 2009, 11:13 GMT

    Why make pointless comparisons to past players? We all know the bowling attacks and pitches of the 80s were far more threatening than today, so averages mean little. Johnson has proved he can bat, but to compare him to the game's greats at this stage is ludicrous. Someone tell Roebuck to stop gazing at his signed Johnson poster and come back to earth.

  • shannonr on March 24, 2009, 10:39 GMT

    You do know that Rumpelstiltskin was a dwarf, right Peter? Does _anyone_ read what you write before it's posted?

  • Shangomega on March 24, 2009, 9:33 GMT

    Johnson has been fantastic to watch since his regular inclusion in the Aussie test team. Hitting Harris for plenty in his 96 no in the first test was sublime. I hope the press need to label him an all rounder does not add a burden to his play as he obviously enjoys playing the game , something that is a role for all juniors to follow . 2 posts in and the Indian bandwagon are already on the chirp , just because Kapil is mentioned . riteshjsr get over yourself ! Not everything on cricinfo is about India !

  • Mad_Hamish on March 24, 2009, 8:20 GMT

    In terms of comparisons to Kapil Dev Kapil played 184 test innings for 8 100s and 27 50s average 31.05 Johnson has played 28 test innings for 1 100 and 3 50s average 34.70

    So Kapil made a 100 every 23 innings and a 50 or better every 5.25 innings Johnson has a 50 or better every 7 innings.

    Direct comparisons are tough because Kapil generally batted higher in the order than Johnson so was less likely to get stranded so he had more chance to make 50s and 100s, against that a Johnson's average is significantly influenced by not outs (OTOH his not outs are 15*, 6*, 50*, 29*,9*, 43*, 96* and 123* so a large proportion of them have given the bowlers a reasonable chance to get him out)

    I'd say that if Johnson continued to perform like he is currently in tests he'd be comparable to Kapil with the bat but it's premature to compare him yet simply because his average has been dragged up from 25 to almost 35 by 1 3 test series. He needs to show form for longer before we can really judge him.

  • abhyu23 on March 24, 2009, 8:17 GMT

    Certainly Johnson is an exciting prospect. He looks to be developing into an allrounder the likes of which we last saw in the 80s. But its too early to compare him with Kapil Dev. Let him play his game and see how far he advances. As as Indian fan, however, I wish him success against all opponents barring India!! Ha ha.

  • Chiller38 on March 24, 2009, 7:40 GMT

    Boy oh boy, I think we are finally seeing the unleashing of a superstar. What it does do is allow Australia to play a 5th bowler. Can't wait to see him plant Flintoff over Father Time at Lords and deposit the pill in the Thames.

  • Ash_from_Bombay on March 24, 2009, 7:31 GMT

    Mitchell Johnson's evolution in recent months makes him an exciting prospect not just for Australian cricket, but for world cricket.

    I only hope Johnson is handled well to ensure that his workload does not finish off his career prematurely. Look what overwork has done to Brett Lee- just when he was at the peak of his career.

  • Mohammad.Imran.Hyder on March 24, 2009, 7:18 GMT

    yes indeed, i am agree with the writeup as Johnson has brought himself up as the number one contender for seam bowling. important thing to mention here is that he has delievered on time and in absence of front line bowling options and proved himself capable for a giant leap. he remains concentrated like that and for sure he will be the best option for austrlian fast bowling in every condition. well wishes for him

  • kd_007 on March 24, 2009, 6:49 GMT

    Rise of Johnson, a bowler, was not a surprise. He prides himself as an Aussie cricketer and it was evident from the fact that he decided against joining cash rich IPL. Instead he gave priority to improve himself so that he would be in contention for Ashes series then. His batting prowess though is amazing and a good surprise to cricket lovers. Players like Steyn and Johnson make cricket exiting. I am sure most test cricket lovers would love to see intense fight between a charging fast bowler and a quality batsman facing. Emergence of bowlers like Dale Steyn, Johnson and Sharma promise just that. Let us wait and hope that the promise comes true….

  • Avid.Cricket.Watcher on March 24, 2009, 6:37 GMT

    Excellent piece as usual from Peter. If Johnson can remain injury-free, and if Ponting takes care not to overwork him, then he really could be the man to keep Australia as the top Test-match team. For the Australian team's sake, they really shouldn't put too much pressure on him as a batter...for it hadn't been Australia's batting as much as their bowling, i.e. the capacity to knock off 20 wickets, that had caused them real worries. And as history tells us, no team has been No. 1 in tests without a world-class pace spearhead (avg. under 25 and ~5 wkts / match). In fact, I believe this is what may keep a team like India from realizing its dream...unless Ishant is able to fully actualize his great potential.

  • Knersboy on March 24, 2009, 6:17 GMT

    well done to mitch, he wowed us south africans and the applause he got at newlands when reaching his century is testament to that. the crowd actually wanted him to get his 100, of course the fact that south africa was winning played a large part in that, but still, while we will applaud an opponent for getting his 100 when playing against us, thast doesn't mean we actually want him to get it.

    a great, humble and well liked aussie cricketer, who would have thunk it.

    reminds me of shawn pollock when he bats.

  • riteshjsr on March 24, 2009, 5:18 GMT

    It has been an amazing journey for Johnson. From being Australia's third seamer in late 2007 to becoming the frontline bowler in early 2009 certainly looks like a fairy tale. His pace, stamina and willingness to send down over after over is a huge strength and what makes him a captain's delight. Now that he has developed the ball that swings into the right hander, he'll be even more lethal. However, Australia should not elevate him to the position of an allrounder just yet. Comparing him to Kapil Dev is ludicrous. Kapil was a top quality batsman, while Johnson is a bowler who can bat. If batting responsibilities are thrust upon him, he could very well go the Irfan Pathan way. International cricket cannot afford to lose him.

  • kaiser1 on March 24, 2009, 3:38 GMT

    Its remarkable rise for Johnson from mere a fast bowler to a breathtaking stroke maker batsman who doesn't waste any time to go into the mould of shot making grand batsman. his shots have such an immense power thatthey go soaring over the fielders or searing past them . Its really enjoyable to watch such hitting and he is so elegant while playing those mighty strokes. There isn't any reflection of a bowler cum batsman. Thanks Johnson for providing such an entertainment.

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  • kaiser1 on March 24, 2009, 3:38 GMT

    Its remarkable rise for Johnson from mere a fast bowler to a breathtaking stroke maker batsman who doesn't waste any time to go into the mould of shot making grand batsman. his shots have such an immense power thatthey go soaring over the fielders or searing past them . Its really enjoyable to watch such hitting and he is so elegant while playing those mighty strokes. There isn't any reflection of a bowler cum batsman. Thanks Johnson for providing such an entertainment.

  • riteshjsr on March 24, 2009, 5:18 GMT

    It has been an amazing journey for Johnson. From being Australia's third seamer in late 2007 to becoming the frontline bowler in early 2009 certainly looks like a fairy tale. His pace, stamina and willingness to send down over after over is a huge strength and what makes him a captain's delight. Now that he has developed the ball that swings into the right hander, he'll be even more lethal. However, Australia should not elevate him to the position of an allrounder just yet. Comparing him to Kapil Dev is ludicrous. Kapil was a top quality batsman, while Johnson is a bowler who can bat. If batting responsibilities are thrust upon him, he could very well go the Irfan Pathan way. International cricket cannot afford to lose him.

  • Knersboy on March 24, 2009, 6:17 GMT

    well done to mitch, he wowed us south africans and the applause he got at newlands when reaching his century is testament to that. the crowd actually wanted him to get his 100, of course the fact that south africa was winning played a large part in that, but still, while we will applaud an opponent for getting his 100 when playing against us, thast doesn't mean we actually want him to get it.

    a great, humble and well liked aussie cricketer, who would have thunk it.

    reminds me of shawn pollock when he bats.

  • Avid.Cricket.Watcher on March 24, 2009, 6:37 GMT

    Excellent piece as usual from Peter. If Johnson can remain injury-free, and if Ponting takes care not to overwork him, then he really could be the man to keep Australia as the top Test-match team. For the Australian team's sake, they really shouldn't put too much pressure on him as a batter...for it hadn't been Australia's batting as much as their bowling, i.e. the capacity to knock off 20 wickets, that had caused them real worries. And as history tells us, no team has been No. 1 in tests without a world-class pace spearhead (avg. under 25 and ~5 wkts / match). In fact, I believe this is what may keep a team like India from realizing its dream...unless Ishant is able to fully actualize his great potential.

  • kd_007 on March 24, 2009, 6:49 GMT

    Rise of Johnson, a bowler, was not a surprise. He prides himself as an Aussie cricketer and it was evident from the fact that he decided against joining cash rich IPL. Instead he gave priority to improve himself so that he would be in contention for Ashes series then. His batting prowess though is amazing and a good surprise to cricket lovers. Players like Steyn and Johnson make cricket exiting. I am sure most test cricket lovers would love to see intense fight between a charging fast bowler and a quality batsman facing. Emergence of bowlers like Dale Steyn, Johnson and Sharma promise just that. Let us wait and hope that the promise comes true….

  • Mohammad.Imran.Hyder on March 24, 2009, 7:18 GMT

    yes indeed, i am agree with the writeup as Johnson has brought himself up as the number one contender for seam bowling. important thing to mention here is that he has delievered on time and in absence of front line bowling options and proved himself capable for a giant leap. he remains concentrated like that and for sure he will be the best option for austrlian fast bowling in every condition. well wishes for him

  • Ash_from_Bombay on March 24, 2009, 7:31 GMT

    Mitchell Johnson's evolution in recent months makes him an exciting prospect not just for Australian cricket, but for world cricket.

    I only hope Johnson is handled well to ensure that his workload does not finish off his career prematurely. Look what overwork has done to Brett Lee- just when he was at the peak of his career.

  • Chiller38 on March 24, 2009, 7:40 GMT

    Boy oh boy, I think we are finally seeing the unleashing of a superstar. What it does do is allow Australia to play a 5th bowler. Can't wait to see him plant Flintoff over Father Time at Lords and deposit the pill in the Thames.

  • abhyu23 on March 24, 2009, 8:17 GMT

    Certainly Johnson is an exciting prospect. He looks to be developing into an allrounder the likes of which we last saw in the 80s. But its too early to compare him with Kapil Dev. Let him play his game and see how far he advances. As as Indian fan, however, I wish him success against all opponents barring India!! Ha ha.

  • Mad_Hamish on March 24, 2009, 8:20 GMT

    In terms of comparisons to Kapil Dev Kapil played 184 test innings for 8 100s and 27 50s average 31.05 Johnson has played 28 test innings for 1 100 and 3 50s average 34.70

    So Kapil made a 100 every 23 innings and a 50 or better every 5.25 innings Johnson has a 50 or better every 7 innings.

    Direct comparisons are tough because Kapil generally batted higher in the order than Johnson so was less likely to get stranded so he had more chance to make 50s and 100s, against that a Johnson's average is significantly influenced by not outs (OTOH his not outs are 15*, 6*, 50*, 29*,9*, 43*, 96* and 123* so a large proportion of them have given the bowlers a reasonable chance to get him out)

    I'd say that if Johnson continued to perform like he is currently in tests he'd be comparable to Kapil with the bat but it's premature to compare him yet simply because his average has been dragged up from 25 to almost 35 by 1 3 test series. He needs to show form for longer before we can really judge him.