Johnson's woes mirror Australia's
As a barometer of the Australian team, Mitchell Johnson is pretty accurate. The same can't be said of his bowling over the past two weeks. It was hard to imagine him having a worse tour of England than the Ashes trip last year but his efforts against Pakistan this month have been, statistically at least, inferior to his work against England.
It is a worry because much of his trouble in 2009 was put down the personal issues Johnson was dealing with off the field, which he himself later admitted was a distraction. There was no such drama on this occasion, so his three wickets at 72.33 against Pakistan - he did not take more than one wicket in any innings - can only be attributed to poor form.
Johnson bowled reasonably well in the first innings at Lord's without much luck, but by the second innings his line was wonky and his threat had disappeared. Not until the final morning of the Headingley Test, when it proved too late for Australia to salvage the match, did Johnson again bowl a challenging spell.
It was notable that Ricky Ponting went to Doug Bollinger and Ben Hilfenhaus first on the fourth morning in Leeds, when Australia needed seven wickets to pull off what would have been an incredible heist. The ball was not new, so that wasn't the reason for ignoring Johnson, who works better at first change but is nominally the spearhead of the attack.
Johnson was named the ICC Cricketer of the Year for 2009, but when he struggles so do Australia; this trip, the Ashes last year and the tour of India in late 2008 being cases in point. He will continue to work with the bowling coach Troy Cooley in an effort to regain his touch for the series in India and the Ashes later this year, after his form was a factor in Australia drawing 1-1 with Pakistan.
"There's endless work that's always done with Troy and the fast bowlers," the captain Ricky Ponting said after the Headingley loss. "Whether it be what you can see at our warm-up or training, or more often than not back in the change-rooms looking at footage and looking at things they've done well or maybe not done so well through the course of the game.
"We all want to play well all the time, but unfortunately that's not the way this game works. If you're going to win Test matches, you have to have five or six or seven of your guys playing well each game, and we probably didn't have that in this particular Test match."
Not that Johnson was alone in the underperforming attack. Despite the assistance for swing and seam, Bollinger, a hit-the-deck type, finds the English conditions troubling. He was barely a danger to the Pakistan batsmen until the final innings of the series, when he found some extra zip.
Hilfenhaus was the most impressive of the three main fast men, although he was still below his best, while Shane Watson proved the most capable of swinging the ball and was rewarded with 11 wickets. The results will put Peter Siddle, who is on the comeback trail from back stress fractures, and Ryan Harris back in the frame for the Tests against India and England.
"I've said for a while that I think that's the beauty about our squad at the moment, the depth that we've got, particularly in the fast bowling side of things," Ponting said. "Siddle is on his way back and is in very good physical shape, Ryan has had knee surgery and is probably a little bit behind at the moment. When you look at that as a group of fast bowlers, we will be able to come up with a group of guys there that will take 20 wickets more often than not in most conditions."
That they had trouble doing so in favourable conditions this month was a worry; remember, Marcus North picked up six wickets at Lord's. The attack will be more comfortable in their home conditions for the Ashes, but much will depend on Johnson regaining his accuracy.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo