Australia in South Africa 2013-14 February 11, 2014

McDermott rates Johnson No. 1

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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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • badyon on February 12, 2014, 8:15 GMT

    "Johnson has re-grown his moustache"

    good game saffas

  • ooper_cut on February 12, 2014, 7:34 GMT

    Australia is seriously down on their batting, only Clarke is classy and warner can be a lottery, all else are nowhere near Amla, Peterson, Smith, AB etc.

  • Andre117 on February 12, 2014, 7:19 GMT

    " smith has always been average"

    After that rubbish one can pretty much ignore everything you said. 250+ scores in the first 2 tests of a series is "average"? Over 9,000 runs at an avg of 50 and strikerate of 60 is average?

    On paper we're a better team than Oz. The only thing Aus has going for them is the result of their last series and their usual "mental disintegration" tactics using the media which worked against England.

  • Shaggy076 on February 12, 2014, 5:50 GMT

    Greatest_Game; Your missing one thing - McDermott said "at the moment" so no point even bringing out career stats he is talking the now and his recent stats are impressive. I agree Steyn is the best but don't see McDermott's comments considering his position to be insulting or outlandish.

  • Greatest_Game on February 12, 2014, 4:03 GMT

    @ Mitty2 wrote " And I dare say it but you'd struggle to find any modern day seamer apart from maybe Steyn who could prosper on those dreadful excuses for cricket pitches (in India.)"

    Mitty, I have to hand it to you.you are always one of the smartest commenters hare. Hold on, let me rephrase that. You are unusual - an Aussie with a brain and a memory ;)) Considering Dale's average of 20.23 in India, you saved yourself a barrage by including him in that sentence!

    Looking forward to reading what you have to say as the series progresses. If miserable Mitch turns up even you won't .be able to defend McDermott! I truly hope that we are in for a cracker of a series, and the Aussies don't just fold. I've said it before - forget Mitch, Rhino is going to be the key Aussie bowler. He will the wicket taker on SA pitches. Wish it was 5 tests though

    Good luck. May the best Saffas win - he he he

  • Thegimp on February 12, 2014, 3:53 GMT

    a lot of people here counting chickens........Like I said, statistics are the fruit of fools, it doesn't matter what a person's career stats are or their ICC ranking, it matters how they bowl on the day. Steyn is consistantly good, Mitch is devastating when he gets it right, Steyn is Lillee to Mitch's Thomo. Harris is every bit as good as Philander and had he been fit he would have the stats to match.

    This series is coming down to the toss on the first day, maybe Australian bats will falter, mind you they have been faltering for some time, even recently against England, so maybe they are used to that kind of pressure. The big question is, are SA batsmen used to that kind of pressure?

  • AH_USA on February 12, 2014, 2:52 GMT

    One thing is for sure, Aussies will not be able to sledge SA cricketers to get under their skin the way they did against ENG. This is a whole different ball game for Aussies. It is going to be a cracker of a series, that is for sure. Best wishes from a Pakistani fan.

  • wellrounded87 on February 12, 2014, 2:19 GMT

    @pjd_howzat what a ridiculous claim. You cannot attribute bradman's accomplishment to the pitches, the conditions or anything like that because if any of that were true there'd be a myriad of batsmen from that era averaging near 100. But the fact is none of them were anywhere near him, and none since have ever gotten near him.

    Also who is your third bowler you claim to be better than Johnson? Morkel is mediocre at best, good limited overs but toothless in tests. Philander and Steyn sure but no way is Morkel better than MJ.

  • wellrounded87 on February 12, 2014, 2:06 GMT

    Guys read the article. He said number 1 in the world right now. Not number 1 of all time. He is entitled to his opinion as are you.

    Johnson's ashes was easily one of the best bowling performances by any bowler in recent time. It's not unreal to have people rate him as a the best bowler in the world. You can disagree (personally i still think Harris is better than MJ let alone Steyn and Philander) but it's not as if it's completely unwarranted

  • andrew-schulz on February 12, 2014, 1:59 GMT

    Thruthecovers, there are a few things you need to understand. One concerns the player rankings. Before the Ashes, Mitch Johnson had missed 21 of Australia's previous 26 Tests. His ranking points drop by one percent for every Test he misses. To be at number 9 so quickly after that is extraordinary. Anybody who watched Aus v eng, SA v India, Aus v SA a year ago, Pak v SA in UAE would have to say Johnson has scaled heights none of the others can dream of. Form is a fragile thing with bowlers. Btw, if Johnson is number nine on these take-with-a-grain-of-salt rankings, that would mean Philander and seven others are ahead of him, not eight.

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