Mitchell Johnson has endured some tiring days in the field over the past 18 months. As the emerging leader in a bowling unit lacking experience, he has been asked to shoulder a heavy workload. The rewards have been a series win in South Africa and the title of ICC Cricketer of the Year; the downsides have included losses to India, South Africa and England, and questions over the attack's ability to regularly bowl sides out.
In Cardiff, Australia couldn't knock over England's tail and allowed the hosts to escape with a draw that helped define the series. In Perth, the bowlers failed to keep South Africa from chasing a near-world-record 414 and the visitors went on to win the series. In India, the attack toiled hard but couldn't take 20 wickets in a Test until Nagpur, and even then Australia still lost the match. Johnson was a key part of the attack in all those games.
Australia hoped their bowlers would have enough in the tank for a home series against the eighth-ranked West Indies and they did at the Gabba, where they were led by Ben Hilfenhaus. But on a fourth-day Adelaide pitch when Australia had hoped to be batting before stumps, West Indies applied themselves to reach 8 for 284. To make matters worse, the touring coach David Williams said his players had always believed Australia's new-look bowling group could "be taken apart".
"From the very start we said that their attack is not very experienced," Williams said. "We played poorly in Brisbane and their bowling was very, very good. In this game here we have showed a lot more application and commitment and the attack to me is one that can still be taken apart. It was evident today, apart from when the ball was swinging around a bit."
The perseverance of West Indies' batsmen meant an exhausting day for Australia's bowlers. Johnson sent down 17 overs in the three sessions and picked up 4 for 85, and after stumps he was physically and mentally drained. "I'm not feeling the freshest now but like I said ... umm ... I've just lost what I was going to say, sorry," Johnson said. "It's been a long day."
Part of the problem for Australia was that in addition to Hilfenhaus sitting out the game with a knee injury, Peter Siddle was only able to bowl eight overs due to hamstring tightness. Siddle stayed on the field but was used sparingly and the effective loss of one of the strike bowlers left Johnson and Doug Bollinger, as well as the spinners Nathan Hauritz and Marcus North, with plenty to do.
"Sidds is an aggressive type of bowler and occasionally you saw that there might have been one or two that skidded through or kept low, but definitely when you have a bowler like that not being able to bowl it ... puts an extra bit more work on the other bowlers," Johnson said. "In the end we used two spinners so that worked as well."
The only problem was that neither of the slow bowlers, who operated in tandem for part of the day and sent down 41 overs between them, picked up a wicket. It was a stark contrast from the results achieved by the left-arm orthodox Sulieman Benn, who grabbed five wickets in Australia's first innings.
"They're different style of bowlers," Johnson said. "Benn's a tall guy and gets a bit more bounce maybe than Hauritz and North. We bowled pretty good in patches and we had two spinners bowling at one stage and going pretty well. I think we did a fairly good job."
Only time will tell whether eight wickets on the fourth day will be enough for Australia. If not, they'll be desperately hoping Hilfenhaus' knee has improved in time for the third Test in Perth next week.