Johnson released from India tour for Ashes prep
Australia have enhanced their Ashes options while reducing the tourists' chances of closing out the ODI series against India by choosing to send Mitchell Johnson home early from the subcontinent, with the intention of aiding his preparation for the first Test against England in Brisbane.
Johnson's early departure from India will allow him the chance to play in two Sheffield Shield fixtures before the Gabba Test, and one match before the national selectors name their squad on November 12. "Mitch has performed very well in India," the team performance manager Pat Howard said. "However, we believe it is best for his preparation ahead of a busy summer to have him return home to increase his bowling loads in preparation for the Ashes Test window."
Though Johnson has impressed consistently in limited-overs fixtures for Australia in England and India since he missed selection for the last Ashes bout, it remains to be seen whether he can replicate white-ball form with the red. The reinstated Test bowling coach Craig McDermott can be expected to spend plenty of time with Johnson upon his arrival home from India, working to make sure he has a chance of bowling consistently well in Brisbane and beyond.
Australia's pace bowling order of preference has been shuffled due to injuries suffered by James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Jackson Bird, but there remains some scepticism about Johnson's ability to bowl with the sustained intensity and accuracy demanded by the diligent approach of Australia's pacemen in England. To that end, he will now be available for the Shield match for Western Australia against South Australia at the WACA ground from November 6.
That match will allow McDermott and the selectors to gauge Johnson's first-class bowling before finalising the Brisbane squad. If selected, he will then be able to build further into form against the Redbacks in the return fixture at Adelaide Oval the week before the Gabba Test.
If Australia's Ashes prospects have been enhanced by a better lead-in for Johnson, their odds of winning the ODI series in India have now lengthened appreciably. Johnson has been Australia's most dangerous bowler across the series by a distance, even during Wednesday night's rousing Indian chase of 351 to win in Nagpur. Nathan Coulter-Nile can be expected to come in to the team for the series decider in Bangalore.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here