McDermott rates Johnson No. 1
Over a pair of startlingly fruitful stints as Australia's pace-bowling coach, Craig McDermott has learned to trust in a handful of simple tenets. Chief among these are the passing on of rich encouragement to his pupils, leavened by simple, digestible and repeatable pieces of advice.
These fundamentals were clearly in evidence as McDermott weighed up Australia's bowling resources on the eve of the first Test against South Africa at Centurion. He balanced high praise for Mitchell Johnson - currently the world's No. 1 fast bowler by his estimation - with a pointed directive about how the tourists must bowl to Graeme Smith's side in the series beginning on Wednesday.
As hard as it may be to believe, given his harvest of 37 Ashes wickets over five Tests during the home summer, McDermott believes Johnson is capable of even better in South Africa, and offered up his bowling in Australia's warm-ups so far as evidence. Not only has Johnson been swift as ever, but he has also found the swing that also aided him in 2009.
"At Wanderers the other day he bowled a little bit better than he did in Australia, particularly with the late swing he's getting here," McDermott said. "The ball he bowled to Chris Rogers [on the Saturday] was something I've very rarely seen in my 35 years of cricket. It was going towards leg stump and knocked out his off stump. It swung unbelievably late.
"He bowled a number of balls like that the other day and. That's good for us. It becomes difficult for right handers who want to leave the ball and left handers who think they're going to just clip it off their pads.
"I think he probably is the best fast bowler in the world at the moment. He knows his game very well, and his accuracy is brilliant at the minute, it has been all summer. And he really understands where his wrist position is, with his alignment though the crease, he really believes himself so he's the full package. On top of that, he's a great bloke."
Johnson has re-grown his moustache in time for the series, again taking on the mantle of shock bowler and all the posturing that entails. He will again be able to charge in at his very fastest, for McDermott and the captain Michael Clarke are committed to using him in shattering bursts rather than taking advantage of a formidably strong frame that can allow him to bowl far longer spells at the cost of a few kilometres of speed.
"If you've got someone bowling 150 that's his best use," McDermott said. "He's got a real wow factor to his bowling from a pace point of view now and he bowled beautifully during the Australian summer. That's always been the plan with Mitchell. We wanted to use him as our shock bowler. When you've got someone like that you don't want him to bowl seven or eight over spells.
"You've got other blokes who are more drilled towards that. When you've got someone bowling 150 you didn't see Malcolm Marshall and those sort of blokes bowling eight or nine over spells. You want to make sure he's your shock bowler but he's fit enough, if he's on a roll, to bowl seven or eight over spells, so we've got the best of both worlds if it is required."
Taking a more general view of the series, McDermott acknowledged the fact his message is now no mystery to anyone. His insistence on a fuller length spiced with the odd bouncer has been the other constant of his coaching, but in South Africa's potentially lively strips it will be more relevant advice than ever. Some members of the squad have taken to McDermott's directives more swiftly than others, and it is no exaggeration to say that the most eager students will be those who find themselves taking the field at Centurion.
"We're going to have to get our lengths right. We're going to have to be very full," McDermott said. "It sounds like an old repeated saying of mine every time we start a new series about bowling full but it's going to be really important to be very full here. We've got to get that right from ball one.
"I think the wicket will have some carry in it and we'll have to bowl like we did in Australia. We'll have to bowl very full and mix that up with some short-pitched bowling, with some aggressive bowling as well. The wicket's going to be pretty Gabba-like I would have thought by the looks of it.
"We've got to get it right [if we bowl first]. We bowled first in Melbourne and we didn't quite get it right in that first hour. We had an unbelievable Ashes series with the ball. We probably only bowled average for five or six hours out of the whole Ashes series. We have to make sure we get that down to one or two hours in this series and we'll come up trumps."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here