The Ashes 2013-14 December 11, 2013

Fiery Johnson prepares for the mind games in Perth

Having troubled the English batsmen with his speed and accuracy, Mitchell Johnson is now preparing for the mind games ahead of the third Ashes Test in Perth
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'Fast bowling all about intimidation' - Johnson

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Front-Foot-Lunge-Needs-A-Hug on December 12, 2013, 14:41 GMT

    @oval77, nice one man. I think if there were more posters like you some of the Aussies here would turn it down a bit. We got a little nose rubbing from certain posters you see so thought repaying the favour after dishing out 2 hidings would be fun but you know what, I think most cricket fans would settle for a tight series with great cricket being played and keep the banter in good spirits.

  • oval77 on December 12, 2013, 12:21 GMT

    Much as it pains me, you've got to hand it to Johnson: we had our fun with him over the years and he's answering back eloquently. Makes for a good sporting story. And even if it causes more internal turmoil for this England fan, I would hope to see some of the other Australian players coming good too after such a disappointing few years. A strong Australia makes for good world cricket. So, congrats! ...And come on England!

  • Moza1968 on December 12, 2013, 8:08 GMT

    @dunger.bob, @Shaggy076 Agree that he's been bowling like a champion. I just think that with an action like his, its too easy to lose the radar. He's too slingy and roundarm. I reckon he's going to be one of those frustrating bowlers who are unplayable one season, and random rubbish the next. At the moment, he's on fire. I'm a neutral, but I can see Aus winning 5-0. Whether Johnson can do it for Aus in the next series is another story.

  • RVC-38 on December 12, 2013, 8:04 GMT

    I think it is all in Johnsons mind.... the fact he thinks that he can singlehandedly win back the ashes and become a national hero, just goes to show you that sledging (or mind games) from England and not just the team the whole country has massively backfired. The only sour note from these ashes is that the English still think we are a one man team HAHAHAHA. But the one positive is that Indians are still taking credit for Johnsons form reversal now that is in the mind.

  • dummy4fb on December 12, 2013, 7:58 GMT

    The Poms are dancing to Clarke and Lehmann's tune and it is sweet, glorious music. I reckon they could both influence and almost get Flower to pick the England team via the media. Puppets on a string.

  • dunger.bob on December 12, 2013, 7:52 GMT

    @ CrikiLeaks: Where do you get your info. .. No, actually, I don't want to know. .. Anyway, love your work. Unless it's untrue of course, in which case I just like it a bit.

  • RVC-38 on December 12, 2013, 7:50 GMT

    @ CrikiLeaks on (December 12, 2013, 6:20 GMT) I am a stat man... and boy have you got some states.

  • CrikiLeaks on December 12, 2013, 6:20 GMT

    @Hayden Field - English top 7 have faced 161 short balls, Australian top 7 have faced 145. It is not the one sided affair the english media suggest. England has scored 97 runs from these for the loss of 8 wickets and Australia has scored 181 for the loss of 4 wickets. Hope this helps you and others suggesting England must fire back with the short ball understand what has happened thus far in the series.

  • El_Awrens on December 12, 2013, 6:02 GMT

    The mind games have done for England. First the persistent niggling about "negative cricket", now the old chesnut about "fear of fast bowling". Both have persuaded England's batsmen to try and dominate the bowlers, a tactic always bound to fail for all but Pietersen and perhaps Prior. 23 of 40 England dismissals in the series so far have been caught down the legside - says it all. Congrats to Lehman on a clever plan well executed.

    Johnson has certainly bowled well at times, but Harris always looks the classier bowler to me. If England knuckle down and look to bat time (like they used to), this should be a more even contest. Of course we're still very much up against it - everyone knows England's (not to mention Johnson's) history at the WACA, but if England can produce a decent first innings and put the Aussies under a bit of pressure, this might be marginally interesting. I certainly hope so as I'm boarding the plane to Perth in 5 hours...

  • dunger.bob on December 12, 2013, 6:00 GMT

    Lots of people seem to think that it's Johnsons pace that makes him such a dangerous customer, but that's only partially true. There have been a number of bowlers who have been just as fast or visibly faster than Mitch. In fact both Ahktar and Lee were recorded in the 160-163 range. That's a full 10k faster than Johnson's best heat. Jeff Thompson is reputed to regularly top 160 in his pomp. btw, 160kph = 100 mph.

    There are other factors apart from speed that go to make up the Johno package when he's bowling like this. .. He's a left armer for a start. Immediately you've got something different there. Lefties are rare at Test level and few can bowl at 150. Then there's his action. I've read reports where players say that he's hard to pick up for some reason. He slings it Malinga style only not as pronounced. .. He swings it around sometimes. In, out it doesn't matter when the swing thing happens. ... He moves it off the seam sometimes as well. All in all, good luck.

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