The Ashes 2013-14 November 19, 2013

Mitchell Johnson's phoney war

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Ahead of his third Ashes series, Mitchell Johnson is saying all the things an Australian fast bowler is expected to. He speaks provocatively about bouncer wars, unsettling Jonathan Trott and breathing fire at 155 kph, foreshadowing tomorrow's tabloid headlines at the same moment he is making them.

But there is a key difference this time that suggests Johnson's Ashes fortunes may be rosier in 2013-14 than the decidedly mixed returns of 2009 and 2010-11. Where once Johnson was caught up in the hype and emotion of the battles with England, now he is self-aware enough to know he is playing a role. This is not to say he does not mean what he says about Trott or bouncers. Instead, Johnson knows such thoughts are only useful so long as they are channeled effectively on the field.

"I guess there's been a lot of talk that we're going to just bowl 155 clicks, bowling bouncers every ball. That's all just media hype," Johnson said. "I know what I need to do, we all know our roles in the team, we're all different bowlers, I can't give too much away in terms of plan, but it's not going to be all-out bouncers, it's picking the right times and being smart.

"I'm not worried about the speed gun anymore. When you first come in you're trying to really rip it in there and you'll check it out. Occasionally you'll see what it is. During the one-day series in England I glanced up a couple times, see the pace and think 'it didn't feel like that'. So it's really irrelevant to me, it's all about my run-up, my feel, how the ball is going through. If I'm swinging the ball late and getting good carry, if it's not swinging conditions and I'm getting that good bounce then that's all that really matters to me, seeing it go through to the keeper."

Things will be less vexing for Johnson this time around in any case, for he has been freed from the burdens of leading the attack. The pace ringleader's role has passed jointly to Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris, allowing Johnson to simply concentrate on bowling fast, swinging the ball and aiming his occasional bouncers at a batsman's armpit.

"We've definitely got the experience in this attack now where we can all compliment each other, and if someone isn't going well at the time I think we can back each other up at certain times," Johnson said. "Just in the nets today Ryan said he was struggling a little at the start, our purpose of the session was to really get into game mode, so we just helped each other out through that. That's what we're going to do throughout this series."

Johnson's even-tempered demeanour has been aided greatly by a settled personal life. He and his wife Jessica are now parents, and the memories of family problems unsettling Johnson ahead of the 2009 Lord's Test have now receded well into the distance.

"It's a great moment to have a child. Really exciting," he said. "You can have those bad days, but I've got a photo album I just flip through and it just puts a smile on your face. That's been a big factor for me having my personal life in order, and really enjoying life. In the end it's just a game of cricket.

"We build these Ashes series up, but I've learned from that in the past you can build it up too much and get too involved and too emotional. For me it's another game of cricket and at the end of the day I can ring back home to my daughter or get back home and see my daughter. It's all in good balance."

Australia will hope that balance extends to the middle, where Johnson said he was also braced for whatever the Barmy Army had in store. In keeping with his newfound sense of what does not need worrying about, he even admitted to finding himself humming along to the tunes, whatever their lyrical content.

"In the recent one-day series it wasn't the full Barmy Army but I copped a bit of stick there and I just gave it back to them when it was the right time," he said, smiling. "In the end if I'm getting wickets and playing well I don't think I'm going to cop as much. If I do I've heard it all, experienced it all and I've learned how to block it out. But it is hard at times because the songs are catchy …"

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ScottStevo on November 22, 2013, 9:22 GMT

    @Gautum, excellent analysis, mate. Also, you should note that in one of Johnson's last shield matches he had 5 or 6 catches dropped off his bowling and still picked up 2. It's easy to read the scorecard and say he didn't bowl well, but unless you actually know what's going on - which evidently you do not - then one shouldn't comment...

  • mk49_van on November 21, 2013, 18:16 GMT

    He is the only hope the Aussies have of turning the table on the Poms. So I hope he strikes and strikes hard.

  • Harmony111 on November 21, 2013, 9:37 GMT

    @Shaggy076:

    Are you saying that I should not read too deep into your comment & simply go linear??? In that case do you promise to do that yourself…and…consistently? I hope so.

    You make such a promise & my dear friend, I will stop looking for the negatives. But sadly I find negatives cos that's how the bulk of the comments of the bulk of Eng-Aus fans here are regarding India.

    Can you quote an Eng-Aus fan saying something wholeheartedly positive for India.? OTOH, a very large no of Ind fans are full of praise for several Eng-Aus players.

  • dummy4fb on November 20, 2013, 17:58 GMT

    @Shaggy: My argument is about the difference in red and white ball cricket. All Aussies supporting Johnson, whether it is selectors, teammates or fans are saying "Johnson looks great" or "Johnson looks threatening" based on his efforts in ODI cricket- in India and before that, in England. Correct me if I am wrong, but in the last test match he played, he was wicketless. Nor has he been extraordinary in the shield game he played prior to the ashes. So, people are just talking him up without any red ball statistics to prove he has improved. And regarding my reference to the ODI in India where people said he was so good- he was only good against Raina and Yuvraj and went for 8 an over just like others did. I have facts to back up what I say and I have every right to express my opinion like you do.

  • dummy4fb on November 20, 2013, 13:45 GMT

    I've watched MJ plenty of times and sure he can be a matchwinner at tunes, but he is just as likely to go for 100 off 20 overs and arguably lose you the match. England must treat him with respect, especially if/when he gets it right, but honestly Harris and Siddle trouble me more.

  • Shaggy076 on November 20, 2013, 10:09 GMT

    Harmony111 ; I think when you read things you look for the negative, all I implied is the scores consistenly were way higher than other one-day contests and test cricket bowling can not be judged by this. I didnt say it was bad for cricket that is all implied by you. Im just not going to hang Johnson for going for 80 runs in those conditions. That is it in a nutshell - Purely a comment on Johnson position at test level.

  • Harmony111 on November 20, 2013, 9:23 GMT

    @Shaggy076:

    The word postage stamp has been used by quite a few guys here. We heard it when Rohit got his 200 too. It has become routine to discount anything Indian on one or the other basis. Sometimes it is the dew, sometimes it is the umpiring, sometimes it is the ground yet each of these things happen in other countries too but we do not hear about them in those cases.

    It is good that now you realize that using the word postage stamp was wrong.

    As for what you said or did not say, there is another thing -> Implication.

    You implied that scoring runs on flat tracks with "Postage Stamp" boundaries is nothing special and needs little skill and this prompted me to remind that may be you were suggesting that since Aus scored fewer runs than India it means Aus don't even have that little skill.

    Undoubtedly Mitch bowled well in the ODIs & was really quick all the time. He deserves a spot cos Pattinson, Starc etc did not much special in India or in Eng. I look forward to Mitch vs Cook.

  • Shaggy076 on November 20, 2013, 7:49 GMT

    Harmony111, I never had a crack about India's talent. My only comment was the figures can't be used to pick a test side when all bowlers were hammered. Sorry about the postage stamp comment but the rest of your post is in reaction to something I never said.

  • dunger.bob on November 20, 2013, 7:44 GMT

    @ jokerbala: I meant to say this in my previous post. Exactly mate. The fact that he can laugh about it could even be a sign that he's figured out how to deal with it as well. All in all, I'd say that if there was one player above all who would love to have a bit of a laugh at their expense, just for a change, it would be Mitch.

  • Harmony111 on November 20, 2013, 6:15 GMT

    @Shaggy076:

    What do you mean Postage Stamp boundaries? The Nagpur ODI, where India chased down 350 yet again, had 80 metre boundaries. The bangalore stadium too has boundaries that are between 76-80 metres. Had you actually seen the matches or paid any attention to the data while watching them then you would have known this. For reference, MCG, the biggest ground in the world has boundaries that are 82 metre long. So are you now gonna say that 82 metre boundary is long but 80 metre boundary is postage stamp?

    And even if the boundaries were postage stamp big, why did your batsman not score more runs against a very weal Indian bowling? India scored more runs than Aus, in far more tense situations, against a much better bowling attack. If the wickets were that flat and boundaries that small then does it not mean that Aus are really really poor that they can't win even though they win all the tosses and have the advantage of making the first move? And don't tell me this was your B team.