Australia's response to the challenge placed before them by their infuriated coach Mickey Arthur may be measured at Old Trafford by the performance of the famously enigmatic Mitchell Johnson. On his first tour since a foot injury ruled him out of the last Australian summer, Johnson made an unsteady return to the international bowling crease at the Oval, but has spoken of rejuvenated confidence and drive inspired by a seven-month break from the international game.

When Arthur sat down each member of the team in the Chester-le-Street dressing room and exhorted them to play with greater presence and confidence in the final match of a series lost 3-0 to England, Johnson nodded in assent and recognised that he had a key role to play.

He might not always have done that in the past, when matters far less pointed than a dressing down from the coach would get to him. It remains to be seen whether Johnson has completely ridded himself of the capacity to be distracted by events away from the middle, but he is at least talking the right game.

"I thought it was spot-on with what he said," Johnson said of Arthur. "We had to sit right in front of him and he just laid it out truthfully and honestly. I think that's a great trait for a coach. From where I'm sitting it was nice to hear that and something a lot of the guys were probably thinking anyway, so to hear it from the coach - we definitely needed that.

"It's more about body language; even if you've bowled a bad ball you've got to have that body language there, you don't want to give them any inch that you've bowled a bad ball or you're not feeling at your best. That's something I've learned over time. I felt like I was starting to get involved a bit more at the Oval. Bowling those no-balls I felt a bit down, but I probably didn't show it like I have in the past, slumped shoulders and head down. I kept on going."

The ability to keep going was for a time Johnson's greatest asset, as he remained Australia's most durable fast bowler through a deeply unsettled period. From his Test debut in Brisbane in 2007 to the Johannesburg Test in November 2011, Johnson played 47 of a possible 48 Test matches, only the 2010 Adelaide Ashes Test in which he was dropped. This sequence served to drain Johnson of enthusiasm and belief. He spoke of the Johannesburg injury as a relief rather than a setback.

"I just wasn't sure where I was going," Johnson said. "If I hadn't got the injury and let's just say I got picked on the next trip - because there was concern that I wasn't going to get picked - I don't think anything would have changed in my performances. I don't think I would have retired but I definitely would have stepped away from it a little bit. Before my injury I wasn't confident and didn't believe in myself.

"The first two months away from it I didn't miss the game at all. I'd spoken to one of the coaching staff and said: 'I'm just not interested in it.' I was just chilling out at home and with friends. I'm happy with my life now outside of cricket as well. I'm enjoying being back in the side. I'm just not stressed about too many things anymore."

Another element of his span in the Australian team before the injury was the slow, painful slide in the team's results. Johnson's enthusiasm was switched back on by the sight of watching the team winning against India, enjoying the adulation of home crowds where the summer before against England they had been ridiculed. Reminded of how much fun the game could be, he wanted back in.

"I started watching a few more games here and there and guys were performing well, and I think that snapped me out of it a little bit," Johnson said. "It was good just to have people off our backs as well, as a team. We've copped a fair bit in recent times."

Ironically, Johnson's renewed pursuit of an Australian place has come in England, where he has been reunited with the fans who goaded him unmercifully both in 2009 and in Australia in 2010-11. He was surprised he did not receive more stick at The Oval when his no-balls released any pressure created by an otherwise disciplined line.

"It's a bit of a compliment in a way. They wouldn't put so much crap on me if they weren't threatened," Johnson said. "That's how I see it. I think they know that when I'm on, it's going to be tough for their side. You can get caught up in it sometimes, singing their songs. I was copping it in Durham and I wasn't even playing. I could hear them over the other side of the ground.

"I just laugh about it now. You can't let it affect you. It really does mean nothing. They're trying to put you off your game and that's it. It'd be nice to go out there and win this last game and not necessarily rub it in their face but show that we're competitive and that when we do come back here next year we're going to put on a show for them."

The question of how Johnson fits back into the Australian team is an open one. His peaks and troughs as a bowler are infamous, running the gamut from his unplayable displays in South Africa in 2009 and in Perth against England in 2010 to the depths he slid to against England at Lord's in 2009, when he was distracted by the airing of family problems in the press.

Given the success and consistency the Test team have enjoyed without Johnson, it is difficult to see him resuming in the five-day game unless a surfeit of injuries opens up a place. In acknowledgement of the fact he had drifted at times in the past, Johnson is now working much more assiduously at training, more aware of his field settings and concentrating on his most positive thoughts.

"Belief and confidence are a huge part of how I'm feeling at the moment. I'm thinking a little more about my bowling with training sessions as well, like making sure I know where my field is when I'm bowling in the nets because I've gone into net sessions where someone will hit a good shot and I'd think 'bugger, he's probably hit that for four' without knowing where my field is.

"That's one thing that's worked for me, knowing what field I've got in the net session. It's really simple things that are working for me, and just having my cues that keep me relaxed and keep that body language up. What is really good at the moment with our bowling group is we've got guys who've got the experience now, so they know what it's like at the top level.

"There was a time there when Brett Lee was gone I had to take over the reins and there was Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, we hadn't really played a lot of cricket together or at the highest level. We're going in the right direction, now it's up to performances and putting the right squads together."

More important to Johnson than any team permutations or training stratagems, however, is the acknowledgement that he is a confidence player. He now knows he has to get himself into the right mind frame if he is to perform, irrespective of where his front arm, left shoulder and wrist are positioned.

"There's been a lot of talk about my technical faults," he said. "It is more of a mental game for me I think, the crowds, conditions, it all plays a big part - and I am in the right frame of mind.

"It's about belief and confidence in yourself, and that's something I've gained being away from cricket because I was in a period before my injury where I wasn't confident. Look at the England side and look at Ian Bell, the amount of confidence he shows out on the paddock, from what it was two years ago; Alastair Cook as well. We can learn from the English in a way."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here