Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 2nd day

Mitchell's MCG redemption

Three years ago there was plenty of noise at the MCG when Mitchell Johnson ran into bowl, but for very different reasons to the atmosphere that greeted him this time

Jarrod Kimber at the MCG

December 27, 2013

Comments: 9 | Text size: A | A

Mitchell Johnson salutes his five-wicket haul, Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 2nd day, December 27, 2013
This year the chants of the MCG in support of Mitchell Johnson © Getty Images
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To describe Mitchell Johnson as a member of a bowling unit is like calling a howitzer just a part on a tank. Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon are parts of the unit. Quality parts, working very well. Mitchell Johnson is the bang. Forget plans and line and length, England were smashed in the mouth by Mitch. Again. It was a continuation of his summer of brutality.

It could not have been more different from this time three years ago.

"He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right, that Mitchell Johnson, his bowling is shite" was ringing out by this stage of the previous Boxing Day Ashes Test. It was well earned. Mitch's first over went for 11. It had followed his fourth-ball duck. Later there would be wides, byes that should have been wides, plenty short outside off and full tosses down the leg side. Had he bowled the ball into his own foot, he couldn't have done much more damage to himself.

It continued to be just that bad the next day, on the very rare occasions that Ricky Ponting gave him the ball. By lunch on the second day, he'd sent down 12 overs of the 76 bowled. He'd taken no wickets. He'd gone for 57 runs. And Brad Haddin had gone for a few byes.

The Test before, Mitch had sat beside Ponting in a sweaty gym-cum-press conference room admitting he had no idea why he had bowled so well at the WACA. Now he was bowling the very opposite, and presumably still had no idea. The Barmy Army abused him in song. The Australian fans abused him less lyrically. The only way his lunch could have been worse that day was if someone had spat in it.

By drinks today he was having a break. His job was done. England were out. Australians near the Barmy Army were probably arguing whether "his bowling's a fright" sounded okay in the song. He could enjoy his lunch, hoping his batsmen can cash in on his carnage.

The MCG yawns louder than other grounds. When England passed 250, you could hear the entire crowd not give a hell at once. Harris might have been storming through the crease with a vicious face and a perfect seam position, but Melbourne didn't want that. They wanted Mitch.

Tim Bresnan's wicket was their chum. They needed to know it was the Mitch of last night, and not the Mitch of three years ago. They needed to see the first victim. Then they let loose. Anyone who had strolled in late, not knowing of the 10.30 start, would have walked a lot quicker just because of the atmosphere of the crowd. You could feel the feet pounding the concrete. The members murmured with anticipation. The public clapped their hands.

Fast bowling was made for this ground. Not the pitch; the pitch rarely gives much at all. It's the crowd that does it. Sarfraz Nawaz's reverse swing is still whispered about like a massacre. Merv Hughes' fitness regime became legendary. Curtly Ambrose came around the wicket with murderous intent. Glenn McGrath was given the ground by Bill Lawry. And Dennis Lillee, well this ground is as much part of him, as he was of it. He was a champion everywhere, he was a God here.

But if it makes Gods, then it also is vicious to those who don't make it.

It doesn't matter if you're an Australian cricketer or an overseas player, if you're playing badly, this ground lets you know very well. Australian cricketers have threatened Melbourne crowds with violence on their worst days. Opposition players have been pelted with gold balls, and urine. Flags were used as weapons as poor fielders picked up a ball from the mammoth boundaries.

As England beat Australia up three years ago, Mitch was out on the boundary getting abuse from both sets of fans as a blown up condom drifted across the ground. Written on it was the simple message, "F*ck you England". No punctuation, no subtlety.

Rather than needing the crowd to do that for him, Mitch did that himself today. His only mistake taking his wickets in front of a crowd that was leaving last night, and a crowd that hadn't turned up today. He owed himself better. He has dominated England all summer, he should have taken all five of his wickets in the Melbourne screaming hour. That magic hour right after tea when everyone is at their drunkest, and only those who have been kicked out for anti-social behaviour have left.

His five-wicket salute to the Barmy Army shouldn't have been polite hand gesture in front of people still climbing up to their seats. This ground humiliated him. And in this innings he smashed all that away. He should have screamed out a demon and beat it to death with a series of short balls.

Three years ago Mitch ended with 2 for 139 from 29 overs. But it might as well have been none for a billion. Today it was 5 for 63. On both occasions the MCG was noisy. This time it was for explosions that Mitch created. The humiliation had moved on.

Jarrod Kimber is 50% of the Two Chucks, and the mind responsible for cricketwithballs.com

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Posted by popcorn on (December 28, 2013, 17:57 GMT)

You beauty, Mitch! Dennis Lillee and all of us are proud of you and what you have for Australia.

Posted by   on (December 28, 2013, 0:17 GMT)

This article made me get up at 5:30 on a cold morning and switch on the telly. Brilliant stuff mate.

Posted by jkaussie on (December 28, 2013, 0:11 GMT)

Jeepers he was quick yesterday! Sitting side on it was almost impossible to pick up the ball, and yet his control was spot on. Broad was quick too but just not with the same menace...it's good to see fast bowling wrecking sides again!!

Posted by markatnotts on (December 27, 2013, 20:56 GMT)

As a 'pom' many might say I am saying this after the event, but I am glad he wasn't on the tour of England earlier this year. For the big reason I remember what he did to SA back in 2009 (I watched on Sky sports). Yes it was good to see him go to pieces in England later that year. I also remember his battering of England at Perth on the last tour, and yes it was at the back of my mind that he wouldn't be able to keep it up match after match now. Unfortunately it was wishful thinking! MJ has been exceptional, and no one can reasonably argue with that!

Posted by gimme-a-greentop on (December 27, 2013, 17:44 GMT)

This is one of the most satisfying comebacks in years...and I am not even Australian.

Posted by Clavers on (December 27, 2013, 12:48 GMT)

Nice metaphor in the opening sentence, but technically incorrect.

The primary weapon on a tank is called a gun, not a howitzer. A howitzer is an indirect-fire weapon whose projectile is fired at an angle of greater than 45 degrees and then drops down onto the target. A gun, such as a tank gun, is a direct-fire weapon whose projectile is fired more or less horizontally.

There are such things as armoured vehicles armed with howitzers, but they are known as self-propelled howitzers. They are basically artillery pieces that are able to be moved quickly. When they fire, they typically do not observe their target directly and require the assistance of a forward observer to hit the target.

I would say that Mitch is very much a direct-fire weapon.

Posted by disco_bob on (December 27, 2013, 9:04 GMT)

The redemption is complete.

Posted by android_user on (December 27, 2013, 8:02 GMT)

yes MJ is my favourite

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