Fiery Johnson prepares for the mind games in Perth
During his lowest times, Mitchell Johnson seemed as intimidating as the black swans that serenely glide on the water in Perth's parks. Sure, in theory they could break your hand with a vicious attack, but nobody is really frightened of them. When he was down, Johnson didn't dish out much lip to the opposition, and if he did he looked more goose than black swan.
How times have changed.
A few words here, a menacing smile there, all backed up with the kind of speed and accuracy that England's batsmen know can hurt them. This danger is not theoretical, it is real, very real. And at the WACA, Johnson's adopted home venue, on a pitch with pace and carry, the threat of a short ball is all part of the mind games Johnson wants to play with the England batsmen.
Will it come this ball? Do I prepare to play back, or can I stand my ground? If it comes, can I hook it, or do I duck for dear life?
"It's fast bowling, isn't it? Throughout history, it's all about intimidating," Johnson said in Perth on Wednesday. "Look at some of the recent ones like Shoaib Akhtar, he used to intimidate all batsmen around the world. Anyone bowling over 140 to me is quick and can be intimidating.
"If you can bowl a ball accurately at someone's grille, I don't care who you are, you're going to be intimidated, especially on a wicket like Perth. We saw it in Brisbane. Peter Siddle's pace had dropped down to 138 and to me that's still good pace, and bowling a good bouncer you can still intimidate. I like the fact that being a fast bowler, you can be intimidating."
That's good if it is Johnson's opponents in the firing line, but his team-mates weren't exactly rushing to take him on in the nets in the lead-up to the Perth Test. Steven Smith noted that the WACA practice pitches were just as fast as the one in the middle. "I'll be quite scared, I reckon, for those seven minutes," Smith said of facing up to Johnson.
Seven minutes won't be sufficient for England's batsmen, if they are to save this series. Extreme pace in Perth has the capacity to muddle the minds of even the most calm-looking batsmen. The WACA was Chris Rogers' home ground for ten years; he has seen it all, and knows how important it is for a batsman to stay focused on keeping his wicket intact.
"You are relying so much on your instincts and your reactions that you tend to go outside of your game plan a little bit," Rogers said. "Playing against Shaun Tait and Brett Lee, there have been times where you are almost worried about getting hit more than not getting out. Once you get into that situation, it can be dangerous as a batsman."
Then there are the words. Wickets have brought Johnson confidence, and that self-assurance has encouraged him to delve into the old art of sledging. At his nadir, he said little to the batsmen, and if he did it was an act to convince himself he was threatening. England's batsmen don't need convincing of that, but Johnson thinks he might remind them of it anyway.
"As a fast bowler I think sometimes you can go either way," Johnson said. "You can either be a bit lippy, or just a little smile here or there can make the batsmen think. Joe Root, we saw in Brisbane, he came back with a few words and I thought I'd cracked him then. You pick your players who either enjoy it or don't. You've got to be sure of which guys you want to go after and what to do. It's all part of the game to me. People call it sledging. I just call it mind games."
And then, as if his own mention of mind games triggered the thought that here might be a chance for some off the field, he reflected on Root's method of handling him.
"It's a cute little smile that he's got," Johnson said. "I didn't mind giving him a little one back as well. You're going to see plenty more of that, I'm sure. I don't mind if a batter does go back at me. It's about being in control. As long as I can be in control of it, then I'm happy."
For now, with 17 wickets at 12.70 so far in the series, it's fair to surmise Johnson is perfectly in control. And for England's batsmen, that's the scariest part.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here