'Calm' Johnson enjoys tough conditions
Mitchell Johnson is rapidly becoming Australia's subcontinent specialist, after his six-wicket haul set up Australia's victory in the first ODI in Pallekele. Sri Lanka's batsmen struggled to handle Johnson, who has also proved himself dangerous man in India, where of foreign bowlers only Muttiah Muralitharan has more one-day wickets than Johnson.
In his third ODI in Sri Lanka, the other two having come during this year's World Cup, Johnson struck in his first over when Mahela Jayawardene flashed at a fullish ball outside off stump and edged behind. The key wicket of Kumar Sangakkara followed when he prodded a slower ball to short cover, and it was the best possible start Johnson could have hoped for in his 100th ODI.
"You know it's always going to be a challenge in these conditions," Johnson said after the game. "It's always hot, the wickets are always pretty flat and slow. You get yourself up for these challenges. I felt pretty calm today. I was a bit nervous through those Twenty20 games and I think that got the little jitters out. It was my hundredth game today, [which was] pretty exciting for me.
"[The pitch] looked a little slower, a little drier [than in the two Twenty20 losses]. It didn't get dewy tonight I don't think. I didn't mind bowling on it. I got the ball to tail a bit away from the right-handers, which is always handy."
Johnson's 6 for 31 placed him fourth on Australia's all-time list of best figures in a one-day international, behind only the seven-wicket hauls from Glenn McGrath and Andy Bichel at the 2003 World Cup, and a six-for from Gary Gilmour in 1975. It was a fine effort given that Johnson was the sixth bowler used, the only time in his hundred games he had been that far down the bowling list.
"It's exciting to be ranked against those guys," he said. "But to be able to go out there and do what we needed for the team [was the main thing]. I didn't know if I was getting a bowl today. But that was what was needed at the time. Sri Lanka got off to a very good start with the new ball and the spinners came on and slowed things up a bit. It gave me an opportunity to use my skills. In the end, the result that we won the game was the more pleasing thing."
The captain, Michael Clarke, used his spinners to make the initial breakthroughs after Sri Lanka's openers put together a good partnership, and he rotated his bowlers well throughout the innings. Clarke said keeping Johnson up his sleeve had been a conscious plan, and the idea paid off.
"I was just trying to get the ball a little bit older and he could use his strength, which is pace, and also he could use his angle to take the ball across the right-handers," Clarke said. "He bowled beautifully. I thought he really executed his skill very well today and we looked after him in the field. The boys fielded really well today, we hung on to our catches, which is great to see because we've been training really hard."
Australia's batsmen had little trouble chasing 192 and they had some valuable time in the middle to get used to the mystery spin of Ajantha Mendis, who could play a major role throughout the series. Clarke said learning how to handle Mendis would be an ongoing process, but he was confident they could avoid the kind of capitulation that took place in the second Twenty20, when Mendis took six wickets.
"He's a very good bowler and especially in conditions like this, where there's enough spin for him," Clarke said. "All of our batters know we're going to be facing a lot of spin throughout this one-day series and into the Test series, and we saw it in the Twenty20 as well.
"We have to continue to practice, continue to look at a lot of footage, because a lot of their bowlers have so many different variations that it takes some time to adjust and get used to it. I think what we did really well today was we allowed ourselves a little bit of extra time to get used to the variations of the bowlers and then have the courage to play our way and play our shots."
The series continues with matches in Hambantota on Sunday and Tuesday, before the teams head to Colombo for the final two one-dayers.