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February 4, 2011
It's been a difficult summer for Mitchell Johnson but he is back on a happy hunting ground for the last home game ahead of the World Cup. Perth was the scene of his one match-winning bowling spell of the season, where he took six wickets in the first innings of the third Test and nine overall, to set up Australia's 267-run series-levelling victory.
That, though, came to look ever more anomalous as he took 2 for 134 at the MCG and claimed 4 for 168 at the SCG as England retained the Ashes then won the series with innings victories. Since then, Johnson has had a stop-start one-day campaign hindered by illness which forced him to miss three matches and in Sydney he took 1 for 43 from six overs while overall has conceded 5.76 per over.
However, at the SCG Johnson also showed the other valuable skill he can bring to Australia's one-day team after he was promoted to No. 4 at the behest of captain Michael Clarke and responded with 57 off 59 balls to help them chase down a record 334. Johnson was initially pushed up the order to clear the boundary but, although he struck two sixes, he showed the ability to build a proper innings.
"The plan worked. Michael and Cameron [White] talked about it that night to keep the momentum going and get after Yardy," Johnson said. "I couldn't quite get after him as he bowled pretty well but I stayed out there and built a good partnership with Callum Ferguson then a little bit of a stand with Michael to get him going. I really enjoyed batting at No. 4 and hopefully I get more opportunities."
After the match Clarke said Johnson's ability to attack the spinners could make his batting a valuable asset during the World Cup. Although Australia expect to have Ricky Ponting back in the top order and hope that Michael Hussey recovers from his hamstring injury to play a part Johnson is ready for a top-order role.
"Michael and Ricky have spoken to me in the past about it, there have been games where I have been padded up in the past and looked to take on that roll," he said. "I probably don't look at it as a pinch-hitting role, but just go out there and be my aggressive self."
However, Johnson won't be able to survive in the team on the back of runs alone - his job is to take wickets as part of a probable four-pronged pace attack on the subcontinent. He has always brought a wildcard element to the line-up, but with Shaun Tait always likely to prove expensive Johnson also needs to control the run rate for his captain.
Despite his high economy in this series Johnson thinks he has enough time to sharpen his game before Australia's opening World Cup match against Zimbabwe on February 21. "I got the ball to swing back which got [Matt] Prior out which is a pretty good sign for me," he said. "I've worked hard with Troy [Cooley], I was probably five or six days behind with my bowling because of being ill so leading into the World Cup if I play this game and a couple more before it starts I think I'll be right."
Johnson will be a major name in Australia's Perth line-up, but overall it will be a much different team than is likely to face Zimbabwe in little more than two weeks after Clarke and Shane Watson were left in Sydney to rest, while Steve Smith picked up a hip injury. Smith joins Hussey, Ponting, Xavier Doherty and Nathan Hauritz on the current injury list at the end of a long home season.
England, meanwhile, have been left with a second-string bowling attack but Johnson believes Australia's problems have allowed them to show the strength and depth available. "There are bound to be injuries along the way, they've had a few disappointing injuries and so have we," he said. "It's not disconcerting, there are guys coming in that have played one-day cricket for Australia and done well for their states. We've got a lot of talent and a lot of back-up."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge