Mitchell Johnson put his hand up over the past week, now he can put his feet up. His second ten-wicket match haul delivered Australia victory in Hamilton, their seventh win from eight Tests this summer, and he's ready for a break. Johnson has been Australia's leading weapon this season with 41 victims at 25.90, and Ricky Ponting believes his strike bowler has never been performing better.
He finished the Seddon Park Test with 10 for 132, having collected six in the second innings, but the most impressive thing was the way he kept digging the ball in short on a pitch offering little and regularly broke 150kph. Johnson has come a long way since his disappointing Ashes tour and Ponting said his fast man had learnt a lot, including from the Scott Styris headbutt at the start of the one-day series.
"To be able to bowl the way he did in the second innings of this game, and probably bowled as quick in the second innings of this game as he has right through that period of time, says a lot about him," Ponting said. "This tour in particular has probably been the best and most consistent I've seen him bowl. To get ten wickets in this last game here is a great way for him to end a couple of years of cricket.
"Mitch is a pretty fiery competitor and the leader of our attack I guess as well, he wants to stand up and be that aggressive sort of bowler. He generally is at his best when he is like that. He might have even got a few fans back with the way he bowled here. Once again, those little things like [the Styris incident] are really good for these guys, they learn a lot about themselves when they are confronted with those issues and having the 15,000-20,000 crowd on their back. He is getting better game by game."
Johnson now gets three weeks away before the World Twenty20 and plans to relax at the beach and in the wineries of Margaret River. The challenge for Australia has always been to manage Johnson's workload as he is the sort of bowler for whom too much time away from the game can be a negative.
"Whenever we've given him an extended break he's come back and it's taken him a little while to get back in to it again," Ponting said. "What we have to do is make sure we don't run him into the ground. I know he's got a nice little break with no IPL, so the guys will make sure he gets appropriate work done to be fresh and fit and ready to go for England [to play Pakistan]."
Johnson said this week that he was happy to kick back and relax instead of heading to the IPL, despite what he conceded was tempting money, in order to keep himself fresh for Australia. His main goal is to make sure he is peaking for next summer's Ashes series in Australia, so that he can make up for his meltdown in England and bowl his team to victory to regain the urn.
"I need my breaks now and then but not big breaks, two or three weeks is probably my maximum break," Johnson said. "I think the more bowling I do the better I feel. I know when I come back from a little break I do feel a bit stiff and sore, I know definitely the more bowling I do the better I feel about my bowling.
"I think I have definitely improved, during that Ashes series I had a bad one at Lord's and probably wasn't as consistent throughout that whole series. But you are going to have those ups and downs throughout your career and I think I have learnt from that. I think I have proved it since then and I think I have definitely stepped up a little bit."
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo