Johnson happy to be the intimidator
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.