Harris hopes 'scary' Johnson returns
Ryan Harris believes Mitchell Johnson will unsettle England's batsmen with his pace if, as anticipated, he is recalled for the first Ashes Test at the Gabba. Australia's selectors will name the squad for the Brisbane Test on Tuesday and Johnson is likely to be in the group alongside Harris, Peter Siddle, James Faulkner and perhaps one of Ben Hilfenhaus and the uncapped Ben Cutting, as Australia keep their options open with Shane Watson's fitness to bowl still unclear.
Whatever the case, Johnson is expected to join Siddle and Harris in the XI for what would be his first Ashes Test since the end of the disastrous home campaign in 2010-11. Johnson, 32, has been in and out of the Test side since then; he played three of the six home Tests last summer but his only appearance since then was a highly unsuccessful performance against India in Delhi in March, at the tail-end of a woeful Australian tour.
After being one of the four players who was suspended for a Test for failing to do his homework on that tour, Johnson took 0 for 60 in his only match, made a golden duck and gave away multiple boundary overthrows in the field. But the absence of James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Jackson Bird due to injury has brought Johnson firmly back into contention for the Ashes, and Harris said he was impressed with what he saw of Johnson during last month's ODIs against India.
"He's right to go. I've watched him bowl in India and it's been scary," Harris said. "He's bowled that fast. I saw comments the other day in the paper that he only rushed Yuvraj and ... Raina. But Dhawan is a very good player, and Sharma, and he had them jumping. He's bowling fast. I hope he's back. He's had a tough time.
"He's been out of the Test team for such a long time and I know, I've spoken to him, he wants to be back in the team. He's done everything he can ... I'd be very surprised if he's not in the squad tomorrow. He's bowling very fast, and if he's bowling that pace, I know I wouldn't want to be facing it and I know the Englishmen wouldn't want to be facing it."
Johnson also had the South Australia batsmen jumping during last week's Sheffield Shield match at the WACA, where he finished with five wickets for the match and had a number of catches put down off his bowling. The Test captain Michael Clarke said at the weekend he thought Johnson even had the potential to be the Player of the Series if everything clicked in this Ashes, but first the selectors need to work out how Johnson and the rest of the bowlers fit together in the attack.
The main issue is the fitness of Watson and whether he will be able to bowl at the Gabba or will play as a batsman only. If his hamstring problem keeps him from bowling, the selectors could be tempted to opt for another allrounder to give Clarke a fifth bowling choice, but Harris said he would be comfortable being part of a four-man attack if that was the way the selectors went for the first Test.
"I'm happy to go with four," Harris said. "That's my job, I've got to bowl. It's probably good for the team if you have the fifth option. Shane Watson bowling and batting in our team is priceless. You need him batting and bowling, but you also [especially] need him batting. So whatever he needs to do and whatever has to be done for him to play, whether that's not bowling, that's fine, we need him in there. Either way, four or five, we've got to do the job, no matter what happens."
One potential dark horse is Cutting, who impressed for Australia A against England last week and may yet edge the more experienced Hilfenhaus for a place in the squad. Cutting, 26, has an outstanding first-class record at the Gabba, where he has taken 59 wickets at 19.83, and his Queensland team-mate Harris believes Cutting has improved his bowling significantly over the past few summers.
"In the last couple of years he's just improved so much," Harris said. "He was always known to bowl probably a little bit too short. It's something I've worked on with him a bit and he's worked with the staff at the Queensland Bulls. But he's bowling beautifully at the moment, he's bowling good pace and he's pitching the ball right up. And his batting - we all saw what he can do in the Ryobi Cup. He's virtually a genuine allrounder. I'd love to see him in there around the squad."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here