Mitchell Johnson has spoken for the first time of the personal turmoil that led to his stunning meltdown during the Lord's Test. In a frank and revealing interview, Johnson - the ICC's player of the year - conceded that a tabloid spat between his mother and fiancee played on his mind throughout the match, culminating in a performance so awry as to convince him he would be demoted for the ensuing encounter at Edgbaston.
Johnson's match return of 3 for 200 from 38.4 overs in the second Test played a significant role in Australia's eventual 115-run defeat to England. At the time, team-mates and staff sought to play down the link between Johnson's delicate family situation and his errant bowling, however he has moved to set the record straight on the eve of this week's Test against West Indies.
"I'm probably going back on myself a little bit," Johnson said. "I said in the past that I'd blocked things out. I guess it started off with the personal side of things. That probably really did get to me. I was denying it at the time, and copping it from the crowd didn't help, but mentally I've probably learned to be a lot stronger and just concentrate on what I'm doing out in the middle. This is what I have to do for a living and I have to leave everything behind me when I'm out there.
"I think that I block things out pretty well normally. It was just the Ashes: the whole hype of it and the personal things that came out. It was mostly through Lord's where I felt that pressure. Obviously I was a little bit disappointed in some of the games I played in. I'm not always going to be at my best. I think I probably put a bit too much pressure on myself with how well I did in in South Africa. Coming into that series I probably relaxed a little bit as well."
Johnson flirted with the selectorial axe after Australia's shock defeat at Lord's, their first at the venue in 75 years. Stuart Clark's precision appeared the ideal alternative to Johnson's waywardness, but Andrew Hilditch's panel pulled a major surprise by instead dropping Phillip Hughes and installing the relatively untried Shane Watson at the top of the order.
The move to call-in an allrounder provided Ricky Ponting with insurance in the event of another Johnson blow-out, and underlined the lengths Australia's selectors were prepared to go to accommodate their fragile fast bowler. That unexpected show of faith, Johnson said, went far to restoring his confidence for the final three Tests of the Ashes series and beyond.
"I definitely thought I wasn't going to play the Edgbaston Test," he said. "I was quite nervous about it. I'm glad I got that opportunity again. You just can't take anything for granted. I am glad I got that opportunity because who knows, I could have been back playing state cricket, which might not have been a bad thing. I could have been working on different things with my bowling. I'm glad I've been given that chance. I don't know what the selectors were thinking, I don't know what Ricky was thinking, if they were going to drop me or not. Just in my mind, I just thought that was going to happen.
"For those guys to have that confidence in me just gave me confidence as well. It made me think a lot more positively about what my role was in the team, so it definitely helped. I had a lot more confidence in Egbaston and then Headingley. I think sometimes I think a bit negatively with my bowling, and it can get me in a bit of trouble, obviously."
"I definitely thought I wasn't going to play the Edgbaston Test. I was quite nervous about it. I'm glad I got that opportunity again. You just can't take anything for granted. I am glad I got that opportunity because who knows, I could have been back playing state cricket, which might not have been a bad thing." An unexpected show of faith went far to restoring Johnson's confidence
Johnson also admitted to mechanical problems during the Ashes series - low arm height and awkward wrist position among them - but insisted all could be attributed to a clouded state of mind. "It got technical because I was thinking about it, but in the end it was more of a mental thing," he said. "I had to concentrate on my bowling - where I wanted to bowl the ball and what I wanted to do, how I wanted to get these guys out. I just wasn't doing that. Definitely in the Lord's Test I was thinking about everything possible - I was thinking about my front arm, release point, swinging the ball, just everything. I probably concentrated more towards the end of the tour. I just forgot about off-field stuff."
The Australians are gearing for their first Test series since their Ashes disappointment, and Johnson is expected to headline an attack similar, if not identical, to that which slumped to defeat at Lord's. He is convinced the chastening experiences of four months ago have hardened the resolve of Australia's youthful bowling unit, all of whom are determined to re-establish themselves as an international force against West Indies from Thursday.
The first Test at the Gabba represents an unusual homecoming for Johnson - he originally hails from Queensland, but these days makes his home in Perth. He hopes his previous experiences of the Gabba wicket for Queensland and Australia will convince Ponting to restore him to the new ball role taken away from him in England earlier this year.
"I'm playing for my country, I'm a fast bowler and I'd love the new ball," said Johnson, who has taken 13 wickets at 12.69 in two Tests at the Gabba, including a nine-wicket haul against New Zealand last summer. "That's one of my goals: to open the bowling for Australia.
"Hopefully I can bowl a little bit fuller than I probably have in the past if I get the new ball or whatever it may be. You've got to be a touch fuller, just like the WACA. That's when you get your nicks and your lbws."