South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Centurion, 2nd day February 13, 2014

Johnson's intimidatory delight

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Mitchell Johnson stopped short of invoking David Warner's infamous "scared eyes" line about England at the Gabba, but he could not disguise a sense of delight at wreaking havoc in South Africa once more, on a variable pitch he compared to that of Durban in 2009.

That of course was the scene of Johnson's most intimidatory spell previously in this country, but the impact of his first four overs at Centurion was every bit as sobering for South Africa, thrilling for Australia and exciting for any spectator who loves the sort of cricket that sets pulses racing. Behind the moustache, a mischievous, even childlike grin can pass across Johnson's face, the sort reflected by the growing number of youngsters who will now want to emulate his speed.

"I'm not trying to bowl 150km, but wickets like that and the ones we got in Australia, you're trying to bang it through there and be intimidating at certain times," Johnson said. "Hopefully youngsters coming through see it and want to do it as well ... there are less out there now. I think it's a great part of the game to have guys who can intimidate like that. Morne [Morkel] does it for them, I do it for Australia. You see the smiles on the kids' faces when you walk up the stairs. They really love it and so do I."

This day Johnson loved nothing more than to add another episode of pain to his long-running battle with Graeme Smith. Where in 2009 Smith twice suffered a broken hand courtesy of Johnson's speed, this time it was his ego that was fractured by a short ball he could neither play nor avoid, looping a catch to the slips. Not for the first time, Johnson suggested he had exhumed old doubts in Smith's mind.

"It's nice when a plan like that comes off and like I said earlier when I got here [in South Africa] it definitely is in the back of his mind what's happened previously," Johnson said. "He's done so well for his country and you just never know, but it was just one of those balls that took off. The wicket when I was batting felt like Morne was really getting the ball to go through, so it was just one of those good balls.

"It is something I will keep trying to bowl, it was one of my plans to bowl that short ball and I didn't really get a chance to swing the ball away from him. The first ball I bowled my plan was to go wide of the crease and get that angle, so we will have to see what happens in the second innings."

Another delivery that pleased Johnson was that to Faf du Plessis, arguably an even more fiendish ball than the one to account for Smith. Not as short in length, it leapt at du Plessis, who could offer only a bat raised in self-preservation and an edge to Michael Clarke. After another over Johnson was spelled, in keeping with the bowling coach Craig McDermott's preference for shorter bursts.

"It took off - it did surprise me as well," Johnson said. "I just felt like there was something going on with that wicket. It was a little bit like Durban a few years ago where it was just really skipping off. It did fly to Michael Clarke in the slips and he took it really well. If I can keep producing balls like that I'll be pretty happy.

"I'm not unhappy that I didn't bowl, he brought me back on pretty early afterward. Short spells have worked for me in the past, if you look back at the summer that's what worked for me, I don't think now I am going to bowl seven-over spells. Even if things are going well, we've still got to be smart about it and keep me fresh so I can keep bowling fast."

While the reactions of younger watchers stayed with Johnson, he was also regaled at times by familiar heckling from the boundary's edge. He admitted to offering the occasional retort, all part of the intimidator's role he has taken up with such relish in recent times, a considerable departure from the introspective and gentle soul he can be off the field.

"I can't really say what they were saying, nothing different to any other times I've been here," he said. "I did give a little bit back, I did say to a few of the guys out in the pool maybe they should use the toilet, they'd been sitting in there for a while.

"The role I've taken in this team is to be the aggressive bowler. That was my role in Australia and that's my role here. I think I've enjoyed it definitely, and when the wicket suits just like that ... I didn't think it would swing that much so I bowled a few more shorter balls. So it's just weighing up what the wicket's doing and what the opposition's doing as well."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • android_user on February 15, 2014, 10:16 GMT

    seeing wat pure pace can do i have serious respect for mr.gavaskar who played and scored against roberts, garner, marshall, holding,croft, thommo , lillee ryt now no team is capable of handling johnson on surfaces dat offer lil bit assistance to bolwers i cud only imagine how he batted against dese menacing guys on surfaces dat were helpful to bowlers and dat too without protective gaurds respect for u mr.gavaskar

  • dummy4fb on February 14, 2014, 17:08 GMT

    This reminds me of the 80s when West Indies had at least 3, and often 4, intimdating bowlers like MJ in their side. But rather then gettung kudos like MJ, they were often criticized for using such tactics, usually by the losing sides (althiugh Richie Benaud would praise them).

  • espncricinfomobile on February 14, 2014, 17:06 GMT

    johnson you beauty hats off ...rampage johnson

  • ScottStevo on February 14, 2014, 16:28 GMT

    @jb633, 'and were never winning it', um, I'd like to think that we were right in the hunt in that series and Eng were extremely fortunate that the 3rd test washed out as at 2-1 with 2 to play, I'd have still expected Eng to win, but certainly not the foregone conclusion you make it out to be...Referring to a scoreline spanking doesn't really wash well with anyone who watched and realised that series was close fought; and it's that same arrogance of believing you 'spanked' us that cost you so badly in Aus. Also, I think you're not giving enough credit to Harris who started the rot in Eng with his magnificent bowling, which he backed up in Aus too. Johnson was no doubt devastating and rightly man of the series, but you must also credit Haddin and Harris too. It's never a one man band in cricket...

  • AravindSRT on February 14, 2014, 11:07 GMT

    @AltafPatel and @DickCam. Both are talking about hosting each other. Any takers on visiting the other team? SA are better offs with the AWAY games. They truly are the brave.

  • DickCam on February 14, 2014, 10:33 GMT

    @AltafPatel, we're really looking forward to hosting India in Australia later this year. With our fast bouncy pitches, Johnson, Pattinson, Cummins, Starc etc all fit and bowling at 140k+. It truly will be a joy to watch. Tell me Alfa, do you think India are looking forward to it?

  • AltafPatel on February 14, 2014, 9:46 GMT

    These negative, body-language bowler should come India to taste the joy of being thresh. They already got so last year with 0-4.

  • arunsubbu on February 14, 2014, 9:40 GMT

    The SA's are going to be whitewashed.SA in their current form and talent dont deserve their current Test rankings.Philander and Morkel dont seem to be troubling them.In fact they couldnt trouble the indians who toured them a couple of months back.heck aussies not only bowl better but bat deep down.Its a np-contest for me.No offence To SA fans.i was their huge supporter during the times of donald,klusener,pollock,callaghan,fanie de villers etc..this team is miles away from them

  • jb633 on February 14, 2014, 9:22 GMT

    @ChrisP and Vishnu, wow pretty pathetic and defensive comments. I am not trolling here or going to make any excuses about the spanking you dished out to us. You guys are playing well and decimated us. My point was that you were spanked (scoreline wise) and even the likes of Clarke and Haddin will concede that. I am not comparing the two ashes in terms of performace because we were pathetic and you battered us. The point I am trying to make, before you get all twitchy, is the fact that Aus lost 3-0 and were never winning that ashes, however you want to spin it. Come the Aus series, Aus were bowled out cheaply and we thought here we go again. However the differnce was Johnson's spells in both innings and his destruction of our lower order at Adelaide. He was phenomenal and we couldn't cope. Evertything that happened post Gabba was due to the mental scarring Johnson had inflicted. Breath and just calm down before getting ultra defensive.

  • MaruthuDelft on February 14, 2014, 7:45 GMT

    @mondotv, how long are you guys and India going to live in denial? If the pitches are the reason for India not producing quickies how Pakistan keep producing world class fast bowlers? Lack of passion and to some extent lack of physical clout are the first reasons; but the one causes more damage is the lack of honesty example you.

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