December 1, 2013

England need a plan for Johnson

They must respond to the Australian bowling threat adequately or the series will slip away from them fast
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Can England put him off his length? © Getty Images

Genuine fast bowling can change a game or a series quicker than any other skill in cricket. However, I didn't envisage the enormous psychological swing that Mitchell Johnson's express deliveries wrought at the Gabba.

England are in trouble in the Ashes series and their chances of retaining the urn will depend on their response to the threat in Adelaide. Australia are the more adaptable squad, while England tend towards being one-dimensional; Adelaide will provide more clues.

England's first priority is to dent Johnson's sky-high confidence. If they allow him to continue in his rampant Brisbane form then the confrontation at the WACA in the third Test can only go one way - Australia's.

Johnson is more accurate when he pitches short. Therefore England has to find a way to change his length. When he pitches full and tries to swing the ball, he often sprays his deliveries. That means someone in the England top order has to judiciously challenge his short-pitched deliveries.

While the fall and departure of Jonathan Trott is sad to behold, it may have delivered England the ideal opportunity. Ian Bell is a born No. 3 and now is the time to promote him. He, along with the captain, Alastair Cook, is best equipped to tackle Johnson. Both handle the short-pitched delivery well and also hook and pull securely when the opportunity arises. This is the perfect combination to slow Johnson's progress, and the time is right in Adelaide, where the pitch is more placid than either the Gabba or the WACA.

England's other priority concerns what to do with their attack. It was adequate at the Gabba without having the edge to it that Johnson provided Australia. The onslaught that was supposedly going to be visited on Michael Clarke to test his aptitude for the short-pitched delivery was more like an attack with a handbag than a hand grenade.

Along with his audacious strokeplay, David Warner did his part in dampening English enthusiasm for intimidation by ferociously hooking the very first ball he received from Stuart Broad. England have to decide whether they maintain their policy of trying to make Australia's runs hard-earned or whether they want to make life uncomfortable for them. If they decide on the latter it'll require the promotion of a faster bowler and a drastic change in philosophy from the captain - a more aggressive pursuit of wickets.

That's a couple of major changes to make mid-series. England could easily be damned if they do and damned if they don't, but there's one certainty: if they allow the status quo to prevail then they're in big trouble.

So while much of the focus has been on the verbal side of the contest since the Gabba Test, it's not words that will swing the balance for England but deeds.

Australia on the other hand are suddenly well placed to regain the urn. One-nil up is a good spot, with Adelaide, a potential draw venue, being followed by a trip to Perth, where a fast, bouncy pitch favours the home side. England are indeed fortunate the second Test isn't at the WACA, because in their current state that could easily have meant two down after two.

Australia are far from home and hosed, as the batting is still vulnerable. The bowling, however, which always appeared to be the best chance of providing victory, now has greater depth with Nathan Lyon's improved form and a real edge to the attack with Johnson's resurgence.

So often, once a genuine fast bowler stamps his authority on a series, the mental damage inflicted can carry over even on the most benign of surfaces. That's why it's imperative for England to at least quell the uprising in Adelaide even if they don't win the match.

Genuine fast bowling has changed Ashes series quickly in the past, as we've seen with the likes of Harold Larwood, Frank "Typhoon" Tyson and Jeff Thomson. And judging by the way he bowled at the Gabba, Johnson could add his name to that illustrious list if England don't show plenty of imagination in Adelaide.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • manikhyala on December 3, 2013, 6:14 GMT

    Ipl has given a come back life to M.Johnson.................

  • android_user on December 2, 2013, 21:59 GMT

    who says cook can't play fast bowling or for that matter kp or bell? the issue is going to be how to combat mitchell Johnson. that said, it could be spray around Mitch who pitches.

  • chitti_cricket on December 2, 2013, 17:29 GMT

    To continue my comments....If Aussies have any match in international cricket on their bowling it is SA. Not anyone else. Only Aussies and SA have well equipped batsmen to play on bouncy, pacy pitches not other international batsmen leave apart one or two in other teams like cook, KP and couple in other teams (as they are very early in their careers like Kohli, Dhawan). I don't think other batsmen have that technique to cope the pacers like Stayen, Johnson, Siddle, Broad. Look at how Clarke adjusted to bounce and short pitch bowling on Gabba. That is what and how Aussie batsmen are made of.Judging bounce is key and that is what rattled England batsmen.Past few Ashes went England way because of Aussie batting not bowling. Aussie bowlers now have to concentrate on Cook, KP wickets and they are half won since no other batsman has inspired any awe in their first outing and showed potential to up the ante.

  • dummy4fb on December 2, 2013, 16:01 GMT

    Someone from the England side will have to step up and take the game to Mitchell Johnson and the rest of the Aus bowling.England have been scraping,waiting for the Aussies to bowl to their strengths,and the run-rate has seemed to go nowhere.Throughout the summer in England they did that,and out at Gabba played with the same plan.It's not working,and they are only allowing the Aussies to grip games tighter and tighter.If they still feel that they can be patient and put enough runs on the board to force a win,well they can keep playing the way they have.But,ain't it foolish to keep doing the same things,and expecting the results to be different?I would like to see an English bat,preferably KP,take the bull by its horns.One session of natural stroke play from KP could turn the tide in England's favor.Though Nathan Lyon's defensive around-the-stumps line has kept KP's game under check until now.

  • chitti_cricket on December 2, 2013, 15:47 GMT

    Mr.Chappell with great respect I have to you, want to share my opinion with you sir. I think Johnson is not equipped well to tackle Cook, So he will be well tackled by Siddle, Harris or by even Lyon. Johnson will get into the skin of other England batsmen with well directed body line bowling at 145-150KMPH.That is the plan of Aussies at this moment looks like. They have good bowling attack and bouncy Australian pitches these England batsmen look to me like subcontinent batsmen. Testimony of this, is last England ashes and the dry and low bounce pitches they produced and the way they bounced back in India after losing the first test, due to the same nature of pitches in subcontinent. But that does not seems to be ominous here in Australia for England. Aussies will test them with bounce and pace and pitches suite them. Looking the way they went so timidly and well under 200 in both innings of first test has put more questions than answers from England batsmen technique and their intent.

  • Pacelikefire_Samrat on December 2, 2013, 14:10 GMT

    I remember Martin Crowe talking about how he faced upto Wasim Akram when he was reverse swinging the ball all over the place;he would play each delivery as if it was swinging in,so that he would only be beaten by the one that moves away.With Johnson,getting the ball to move both ways that would be the best way to counter him.I have noticed that with his present modified action,unless the ball pitches within the line of off stump,its difficult for him to swing it back in,so the strategy would be to tire him out and play on the backfoot as much as possible.Thats not a perfect strategy though,the one that pitches on middle and jags away may still open up the right hander for an easy catch in the slips/gully but still at present seems a safer option to play inside the line and know where your off stump is.

  • dummy4fb on December 2, 2013, 12:36 GMT

    The idea should be to tire him and let him not take wickets. Every time he takes a wicket, he will feel re-energized. So if the ball is pitched up, the batsmen should play assuming it is coming in (right handers). If the ball were to go away at the last minute and they get beaten - fine - they will only get beaten, they will not get out. If it is short, leave it- sway out of the way. Don't give him any wicket in his first two spells or so ( about 10 overs). He will automatically get tired and not take any after that!!! However, that said, they should also watch out for the canny Ryan Harris, who is more dangerous than Mitchell Johnson. They also need to play him out, without losing wickets and rotating the strike.

  • android_user on December 2, 2013, 10:07 GMT

    During the India tour I watched Johnson closely and found that he is no more the erratic self as far as line and length is concerned.Of late he pitches the ball in right areas with great speed.Actually his rythem is very good at present.He is getting reverse as well as late swing that cause tremendous problem for the batsmen.The English batsmen should alter their stance a bit by getting more openchested and play a little late.

  • Siddiee on December 2, 2013, 8:03 GMT

    England should play Finn sooner than later, to me he is as very fine bowler and needs to be regular in this English team. Broad is bowling well and Swann ranks in top 2-3 spinners anyday and Anderson is more than handful in any condition. In batting England are far superior to Australia and all this hoopla of short pitched bowling doesn't make much of sense. Facing well directed fast bowling is not an easy task for any batsmen be it from Eng, Aus or any other country. End of the day, you can save your wicket by getting out of the line of attack till the time you are not comfortable to play a shot and rest assured no bowler will continue to bowl meaningless short balls let alone Mitch who is more of a confidence bowler.

  • xtrafalgarx on December 2, 2013, 7:57 GMT

    @Backstreetbowler: If you changed allegiances that quickly, you were never an Aussie.

    You have to remember, once the Aussies get a foot in the door, they are ruthless. Australian's are born front runners, they love it and don't get tired of it. England lost it's drive when they reached number 1, but Australia's hunger to be the best is insatiable.

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