Australia in South Africa 2013-14 February 4, 2014

Johnson happy to be the intimidator

ESPNcricinfo staff

Mitchell Johnson is pleased to be considered Australia's enforcer ahead of the Test series against South Africa, but he is conscious of the way his career nosedived after he was in a similar situation in South Africa five years ago. This time around, Johnson has landed in South Africa as the reigning Allan Border Medallist and having just been Man of the Series in Australia's remarkable Ashes clean-sweep.

In 2009, he flew to South Africa having just broken Graeme Smith's left hand with a vicious, spitting delivery in the final Test in Sydney. Johnson responded with another outstanding display against the South Africans and was Player of the Series in the return contest in South Africa, and remarkably managed to break Smith's other hand during the Durban Test with another fast, rising ball.

However, the Ashes tour of England that followed later that year began a slump for Johnson, who struggled to replicate his exploits against South Africa. Now, more mature at 32, he hopes that he will again be able to cash in on his confidence and form against a team that has brought him some of his best memories in Test cricket.

"I'm happy to be the intimidator and to be talked of like that," Johnson told reporters in South Africa on Monday. "I'm coming over here after a great series being the intimidator against England. They've obviously seen all that, and I think they [South African spectators] are excited about seeing that as well

"I had a lot of English [supporters] come up to me after the series, and even through the series, and they were just saying how good it was and how it brought Test cricket back to life. It's great to hear those words. But I know I've been in this situation before. In '09, everything was going really well [and then declined], but I've learned from that. I'm not going to underestimate anything - I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing."

Johnson said his past success against Smith - as well as hitting him a number of times he has also dismissed him five times from eight Tests - should hold him in good stead on this tour.

"That stuff can be in the back of their minds, definitely. You hope so," Johnson said. "I've played against Graeme Smith a few times now and I've hit him a couple of times. I'm hoping that's still in the back of his mind. That hopefully gives you a bit of an advantage.

"But it is a new series and they are a tough opposition. They're very strong mentally and they're the No.1 side for a good reason. Once that Test series starts, we've got to start from scratch. We've got to keep improving as a cricket team. Our goal is to take them over, so it's a really important series for us."

Johnson's Ashes series has rocketed him up to No.8 on the ICC's Test bowling rankings, which means that the upcoming three Tests will feature the five best fast bowlers in the world based on those rankings. Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 and Ryan Harris is third. Peter Siddle sits sixth on the ICC list but all the rest of the bowlers in the top eight are spinners.

However, the Australians will have to enter the series without match practice in the South African conditions after their four-day warm-up match in Potchefstroom, which was due to start on Wednesday, was cancelled due to persistent wet weather. Instead, they will have to train in Centurion and hope for some outdoor practice in the lead-up to the first Test.

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  • John on February 9, 2014, 17:46 GMT

    Can any South African poster tell me exactly how your team is going to manage with only eleven players from now on. Kallis has always given you twelve players, actually given his batting average it was probably 12 and a quarter players, so it's going to take some getting used to. I can imagine it now, 'We've lost early wickets, but no problems Jaques will dig us out ...... Oh damn'. Or maybe, 'We need a breakthrough, roll your arm over Jaques. Jacques? Jacques? Damn".

  • Dummy4 on February 7, 2014, 12:49 GMT

    @ Greatest_Game. No, you are dead right. Mitch's sudden decline was inevitable. Anyone could see it occurring. It can only really occur further as your expert analysis will surely prove.

    In his current free fall he might even plummet as low as Morkel's best.

    By the way, I saw him rolling over his arm to some youngsters recently, and I again concur with you, as he really looked like he was in decline. Shame there isn't a T20 match coming up where you could further your rigorous analysis. Otherwise, try Mitch in a Test in January 2014, stretch it as far back as November (2013) if you want. Or take two ODI matches as your hope, sorry, analysis. ModernUmpiresPLz obviously watched the games.

  • Xiong on February 5, 2014, 11:24 GMT

    @Greatest_game actually there is some fact to Mitch not having risked injury in the ODI's. If you look at the pace he was bowling it wasn't just down from his test match bowling speed (which is strange to see in the first place, to any degree) it was significantly down. Mid 130's. If he was bowling ~150 but all over the shop I would agree with you, but he was bowling medium pace in the ODI's. It still looked sharp, but it was nothing like what he was peppering the English test team with. It's all to do with having respect for SA, which Australia do. If we didn't respect SA we wouldn't trash talk pre series. We would just go on over, thrash the hell out of them, and come home. Ever since the Ashes ended the SA tour is the REAL focus of the Australian test team, don't be fooled by Australia talking about wanting to clean sweep England in all series blah blah. That's crap. We want to beat SA in SA, that's 100% the main goal.

  • Dummy4 on February 5, 2014, 4:57 GMT

    You really can't call it miserable form, based on 2 intermittent ODI's.

    If we look at Mitch's career for the past year IPL, ODI's in England and India, and the Ashes, You will see a bowler who is in charge of his destiny.

    As long as he can keep his head, be consistent and quick, He will deliver!

  • Nathan on February 4, 2014, 23:29 GMT

    @ Greatest game

    Your premise for Mitch being out of form is comparing his performance in a 5 match test series compared to 2 ODI's.

    Apples and Oranges! I hope that you're correct in that the Proteas aren't shaking in their boots and think that he's miserable. That was Englands thought process before the ashes and we all know the result and three of their world class players are no longer with their team.

    Maybe as Mitch has matured and there are different coaches around him miserable Mitch won't return.

  • David on February 4, 2014, 15:42 GMT

    @ Shane Moy. Chill out dude. We are not "rubbishing" the man or the team…well from SA that is. This is called "discussion & debate." For pure rubbishing, read the comments on NZ's current matches, or jonesy2, RandyOz, etc.

    This dissuasion is about "Mitch the enforcer." What Bothan said is what he always says - far from reality! It is immaterial to this conversation. If you are suggesting that Mitch had miserable ODI figures cos he was "not risking injury" you are in Botham's league. If he was that concerned he would not have played, & bowled at ave 131. None of these players are deliberately bad!

    Know this: Saffas are not poms. We are pretty quick to admit to our many problems. And, get this straight: SA's very healthy lead in the rankings is no "on paper" rubbish - it was hard earned, including in Aus, facing Mitch.

    You have the next 8 days to enjoy your indignation. Make the most of that. If you are proved wrong, come back here and admit it, ok?

  • David on February 4, 2014, 15:18 GMT

    @ The_Miz wrore "Morkel like Mitch can bowl an incredibly hostile spell BUT not maintain that aggression over the course of a series like MJ. He is more of a steady bowler these days."

    You are dead right. Morkel can't do "hostile" well, & struggles to be outright aggressive. Steyn said if he could get Morkel really angry & aggressive, he would be the better bowler! His height & steep bounce gets him few lbw or bowled, but batsmen can find it hard to score. In the last 2 years, of his 70 wickets 13 were bowled, 5 lbw, & 52 (75%) caught, at econ 2.9. He ties batsmen up, chokes run rate, builds pressure & then Steyn & Philander reap the rewards. He is also consistantly better on unhelpful tracks.

    In THAT Adelaide test, in 49 overs (13 more than Steyn) he conceded 196 runs @ econ 4, & took 8 of SA's 18 wickets. Of both team's bowlers he took the most wickets, & the only 5 for - the match's most successful bowler, yet who noticed? He is very underestimated, & essential to SA's attack.

  • Izmi on February 4, 2014, 13:35 GMT

    Now that Johnson has declared himself as the intimidator a lot of responsibility rests on his shoulders. He has to deliver what's been promised otherwise he could get hit all over the park by the South African batsmen who will be waiting to take advantage to hit him out of the attack early on which could put a big dent on his confidence. An aussie victory in this series would depend very much on Johnsons thunderbolts. If the South African batsmen succumb to his guile and pace then defeat will be the only outcome. I am sure South African pacemen Steyn and Philander will also have their plans for the aussie batsmen who have been vulnerable to good fast bowling. It all depends which team has the fire power to crash through the opposition and the best batting lineup to counter any pace attack. I reckon this could be one of the greatest test series in recent times. The winner no doubt will be crowned the number one ranked team in test cricket.

  • siddhartha on February 4, 2014, 12:09 GMT

    i hope MJ turns on the beast mode again

  • Alan on February 4, 2014, 11:37 GMT

    I see a left arm quickie got both Smith & Amla in the SA warm up game. Maybe Mitch & Wayne had a quiet word last night......