South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Johannesburg, 2nd day

Australia don't need a Flintoff clone

Instead of scratching their heads for clone of Andrew Flintoff, who haunted them during the 2005 Ashes, the penny has started to drop that attempting to copy natural ability is like trying to replicate the Mona Lisa

Brydon Coverdale at the Wanderers

February 27, 2009

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The highlight of Mitchell Johnson's display was a string of lusty slog-swept sixes off Paul Harris that brought an Australian Test record of 26 runs in one over © Getty Images
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Australia's obsessive search for an allrounder has been so fruitless that it is tempting to look at the brilliant innings from Mitchell Johnson and Marcus North and argue that they have found two in one day. But what they have really discovered is the value of playing their best XI with each man in a position suitable to his skills.

Instead of sending in a solid jack-of-all-trades like Andrew McDonald at No. 6, as they did in Sydney, they chose a genuine top six batsman in North. He rewarded them with a superbly composed century on debut and if he chips in with some handy wickets with his part-time offspin then all the better.

Instead of scratching their heads for a clone of Andrew Flintoff, who haunted them during the 2005 Ashes, the penny has started to drop that attempting to copy natural ability is like trying to replicate the Mona Lisa. At best you'll appear silly for trying and at worst you'll have the credibility of an art-school dropout.

North has proven himself to be a thoroughly capable Test No. 6, which is no surprise given he has spent the past decade holding down a middle-order spot for Western Australia with an average of 44. He entered the game with 22 first-class centuries compared to McDonald's two.

North raised his century with a late cut from the bowling of JP Duminy and became the 18th Australian to score a hundred on Test debut and the first since Michael Clarke more than four years ago. His team-mates, perched in the Wanderers dressing room, offered him a generous ovation - a celebration as much for his momentum-shifting innings as the arrival of a batsman who, finally, adds starch to the middle-order.

He will be a valuable person to have around the group this year in particular. Stints at five different counties have given him more than a taste of the English conditions and he has a spell at Hampshire coming up ahead of this year's Ashes tour.

His all-round skills mean there will be less urgency to rush Andrew Symonds back, whenever he is deemed to be available. But the fact that North has nearly 100 first-class wickets - including a career-best six in last week's tour match in Potchefstroom - is a bonus. If Australia throw in a frontline spinner when conditions suit, in place of McDonald, their balance will look even better.

 
 
The fact that North has nearly 100 first-class wickets - including a career-best six in last week's tour match in Potchefstroom - is a bonus. If Australia throw in a frontline spinner when conditions suit, in place of Andrew McDonald, their balance will look even better
 

There is no reason McDonald can't be a useful Test player but at the moment he appears surplus to needs at No. 8, a position that Johnson can easily fill. His duck - albeit to an excellent, swinging Dale Steyn delivery - looked all the poorer when contrasted with the 117-run partnership compiled by North and Johnson, which broke the eighth-wicket record for Australia in Tests against South Africa.

Johnson was desperately unlucky not to match his partner and score his first Test century. He watched on as Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus fell in successive balls to leave him stranded on 96, but his innings was every bit as century-worthy as that of North. The highlight of Johnson's display was a string of lusty slog-swept sixes off Paul Harris that brought an Australian Test record of 26 runs in one over but to label him a late-overs basher is to do him a major disservice.

Compared to top-order men like Simon Katich and Phillip Hughes, who score runs in spite of their weird techniques, Johnson's batting style is pure. His stance is so rock solid and his bat so straight that he could have been the inspiration for the little plastic batsman in the Test match cricket board game.

Before he lost a ball by sending it over midwicket and out of the stadium off Harris, he had sent it rocketing to the boundary several times, including with a perfectly timed cover-drive off Jacques Kallis that he has produced so often in the past year that it's clearly not a fluke. In his last three Test innings, Johnson has made 203 runs and has been dismissed once.

When he walked off the Wanderers to a rousing reception, he boasted a Test batting average of 31.47. For the record, Flintoff's average is 31.69. But that's a figure Australia shouldn't get too carried away with.

At some point Johnson will make a Test century but he shouldn't be bumped too high up in the order. North at six, Brad Haddin (who made a valuable 63) at seven and Johnson at eight. Three quality performers in positions that suit them. There's no need to manufacture a Flintoff clone.

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Ozcricketwriter on (March 2, 2009, 2:17 GMT)

Wow. Johnson gets 1 decent score and suddenly he is "a true all-rounder". What nonsense. People were saying the same thing about Brett Lee, who, since then, has proven that he is a number 8 or 9 and that's it. As for McDonald, so he has had 3 innings and hasn't scored too well. So what? His bowling, for the record, is 4 wickets at 22 per wicket, better than any of the other bowlers in the team. Perhaps that is luck, but perhaps if they used him more then he might be good. This kind of nonsensical "1 innings means everything" mentality is why Australia doesn't consider Nathan Bracken to be a test bowler, based on 1 solitary test match in which no bowlers did well. This is the same idiocy that has led to Australia labelling Stuart Clark as a test match only bowler, after just a few mediocre one day matches. Of course, in saying that, I don't think that either McDonald or North should be in the side, or on the tour. What is wrong with David Hussey? Or Brad Hodge?

Posted by suni_kumar on (March 1, 2009, 11:18 GMT)

Freddie Flintoff the greatest allrounder in the history of game..? I thought,one of these guys are the best allrounders,..?sobers,botham,imran khan,kapil dev,hadlee,kallis... am I wrong or did they play hockey.

Posted by GVR1965 on (March 1, 2009, 10:13 GMT)

I think that andrew McDonald,is not showing his best and using his chance to prove in the international test cricket of Australia with reference to Marcus North ,Johnson,Haddin,North peter siddle and Ben hilfenhaus . These young players are proving the future of australian cricket team. There are also some performers like Hodge, White , Krezja ,the opener Shaun Marsh,and even adam voges ,Shaun Tait and phil Jaques and so on.So, Australia has an enough choices to replace warne , gilchrist, langer , Mcgrath. And why not a better all rounder than Flintoff in these categories.

Posted by slogger_rob on (March 1, 2009, 8:47 GMT)

Personally I think Flintoff is over rated as an all-rounder... he's only worth a few more runs per innings that Broad. What Australia need is just someone like Johnson who is a frontline bowler that can hold his end with a bat. Nothing more. If the batsmen can't do their job... then get a better top 6... if the bowlers can't then get a new bowling options. If you have a jack of all trades they tend to master none.

Posted by vinit207 on (March 1, 2009, 7:02 GMT)

I think its a mistake to be terming Mitchell Johnson as an all rounder. What Australia need is his bowling. His batting is at best a bonus. Scoring runs should be a top 7 batsmen's job. All this drooling over 'Mitch the next Freddie' will only lead to him taking his batting more and more seriously which is definitely going to affect his bowling. Lance Klusener and Irfan Pathan are classic examples of wonderful bowlers turning into decent ones after their batting took off. Not everyone can be Freddie.

Posted by leslie3141 on (March 1, 2009, 6:47 GMT)

To Freddie_Flintoff_Dhaka, yes, Flintoff may be an excellent all-rounder, but Mitchell Johnson isn't just any old tail-ender. Any no. 9 who makes 96* and hits 26 in an over off a quality spinner like Harris deserves to be called an all-rounder. This article is pretty good. The North, Haddin, Johnson line up at 6-7-8 looks to be very promising.

Posted by AJ_Tiger86 on (February 28, 2009, 11:35 GMT)

Freddie Flintoff is the greatest all-rounder in the history of the game. There will never be a clone of Flintoff. Mitchell Johnson is not half the bowler that Flintoff is and he is nothing more than a tail-ender who can hold the bat.

Posted by azzaman333 on (February 28, 2009, 9:44 GMT)

I'm still not convinced Bollinger is actually a better bowler than McDonald anyway.

On the other hand, Bracken is a genuine swing bowler with the new ball and has variety when conditions aren't good for swing. Siddle, Bracken, McGain Johnson as a bowling line up, with part time support from North, Katich and Hussey, gives the variety and firepower to consistently take 20 wickets.

Although, if Hussey can't manage a century on this tour, he should be replaced with Klinger or his brother.

Posted by blazedog84 on (February 28, 2009, 8:59 GMT)

It was great to see the Aussies have a successful day in which they ground down sa with sensible batting and aggressive bowling. I think the make up of the side is fairly strong, except for McDonald who should have made way for a specialist bowler. I think that just shows the selectors slight worry in the form and capabilities of the top 6 which is slightly justified with 2 debutants and the indifferent form of Hussey. The main thing for Australia is to keep the squad together for an extended period of time so that every man in the side knows his role and is familiar with the blokes around him. It may take time but blokes like Hughes and Siddle will reap the rewards of confidence instilled in them of their role with the experince of the older players around them.

Posted by Chinmuzic on (February 28, 2009, 8:36 GMT)

Cant say much about North so early. But another a little too-early predictions: i have an intuition that Mitch would gradually bloom into an Alan Davidson & probably much more. Amen!.

Have Australia struck the right balance in their XI?
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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.
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