Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 2nd day January 4, 2011

Johnson's confidence sounds a warning

Mitchell Johnson has a habit of clicking as a bowler after runs with the bat have given him confidence, and England have every reason to be wary after his two wickets on the second afternoon kept Australia in the game

England beware. When Mitchell Johnson makes a half-century or more he usually grabs a large haul of wickets. He was Australia's top scorer for the second time in the series today and then followed up his very handy innings with two important breakthroughs to keep Australia in the game.

Johnson doesn't feel the early runs change his mood or his bowling, but the numbers suggest they do. In Perth a fortnight ago he began with a team-high 63 and then flicked the switch that turned him into the most dangerous bowler in the game.

Six victims in the first innings were followed by another three in the second. Two years ago he posted 96 not out against South Africa in Johannesburg before collecting a couple of four-wicket hauls during a summer that was the high period of his 42-Test career.

This time his 53 has been backed up by 2 for 42 in 12 overs, leaving England 113 runs behind at 3 for 167. Michael Clarke, the new captain, decided to hand the new ball to Johnson and while he sprayed it at times, including a couple well down the legside, he was Australia's most potent weapon.

Johnson felt that being asked to open the bowling had a greater impact on his performance than his time with the bat. "What helped me today was actually getting the new ball, that gave me a lot of confidence," he said. "I think my pace was up again, and I did swing the ball a little bit and used the wicket.

"I guess you look at Perth and I got runs there and got wickets. In Melbourne I didn't score any runs and didn't get many wickets. So whether my batting has something to do with it, I don't think it does."

It was his sixth Test half-century - he also has a hundred - and on those occasions the only time he has not taken at least four wickets for the match came at Lord's in 2009. That score arrived in the final innings after he had been wretched with the ball.

England rate Johnson as a confidence player and aim to keep down his scoring as a way of keeping pressure on his bowling. Andrew Strauss spread the field after wearing down the batsmen more qualified than Johnson by orthodox means. James Anderson said that once they saw him hitting the ball well they decided to target Ben Hilfenhaus instead. The pair helped regain ground, putting on 76 after coming together at 8 for 189.

Australia's bowlers have received a lot of the criticism in this series, but the batsmen have started to win some serious notice. First-innings scores of 481, 245, 268, 98 and 280 in this series have added even more pressure to an insecure attack. England's men exploited the murky conditions on the second day and forced the batsmen into mistakes and edges, either to the cordon or on to the stumps.

Australia's bowlers were desperate to strike early but bowled a touch short and it wasn't until after tea that they found the desired area. Having helped save Australia's innings, Johnson and Hilfenhaus fought back after an aggressive start from the tourists.

Clarke wants Johnson in the contest and texted him before the match "saying a few nice things and making sure I was ready". The first three-over spell didn't come off, with Johnson being cut for four three times, but the situation improved after England had raced to 98 in the 23rd over.

Once Hilfenhaus had bowled Strauss with a full one, Johnson pitched up outside off and Jonathan Trott inside-edged on to his stumps. After fretting about their position, Australia were suddenly back at level terms at 2 for 99. Six overs before stumps Johnson was called again by Clarke and he delivered a bouncer to Kevin Pietersen. The miscue was taken by Michael Beer at fine-leg, giving Australia a bright finish to another tough day.

"It was a plan that I'd thought about to him," Johnson said. "Early on I was trying to swing the ball back into him and then when I came back on I just thought, 'I'll bowl a bouncer here and see what happens'. Every time I've bowled him a bouncer he's tried to play it." These sorts of tactics seem more likely to come off for Johnson when he's already got some decent runs.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

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