Johnson a first-rate first-change
Mitchell Johnson has done some wonderful things this year but his captain Ricky Ponting insists he has never bowled better than during this week's win over Pakistan in Melbourne
Mitchell Johnson has done some wonderful things this year but his captain Ricky Ponting insists he has never bowled better than during this week's win over Pakistan in Melbourne. Johnson has finished the calendar year as the world's leading Test bowler with 63 wickets at 27.42, nine victims clear of Graeme Swann.
During 2009 he scored his first Test century and became the first Australian and seventh player ever to achieve the double of 500 Test runs and 50 Test wickets in a calendar year, after Vinoo Mankad, Ian Botham, Kapil Dev, Shaun Pollock, Andrew Flintoff and Daniel Vettori. Johnson capped off the year with six wickets at the MCG and Ponting believes he is thriving without the responsibility of taking the new ball.
"He's got the most wickets for the year, hasn't he, in Test cricket?" Ponting said. "Right at the moment, he's doing everything spot-on. I said to him after our first-innings bowling, I think that's the best he's probably bowled for us. He's continuing to get better.
"One of the big things for Mitch is the fact he's not bowling with the new ball. That is something that's really good for him. We've seen at different times how dangerous and damaging he can be with the new ball, but I think we've seen here in conditions where the old ball does a little bit as well that that's when he's at his most effective."
The figures back up Ponting's assessment. Although some of Johnson's most venomous spells have been bowled with the new ball, including his destruction of South Africa in Johannesburg this year, so have many of his worst. In the 30 Test innings where Johnson has taken the new ball he has collected 74 wickets at 29.24 but in 28 innings when used as a change bowler he has picked up 63 victims at 26.65.
In part that is due to his struggles to control the swing of the new ball and after his Ashes meltdown at Lord's, he was stripped of the opening duties and reverted to first change. That move has not been a concern for Johnson, who is the most experienced member of Australia's young attack and still considers himself its leader.
"It didn't faze me," Johnson said. "I think I do a pretty good job first change, second change. I've come to the conclusion that at the moment I'm happy where I am. I'm still the leader of the attack even though I'm not taking the new ball and I'm really enjoying that role."
Whatever he's done, it's working. Johnson was named the ICC's Cricketer of the Year for 2009 and finished the year with a controlled, consistent display of first-change bowling at the MCG. As important as his six wickets was the way he stifled Pakistan's runs and he collected match figures of 6 for 82 from 40 overs.
He set the tone for Australia's quick demolition of Pakistan early on the fifth day when he picked up two wickets from two balls in the first over of the morning. Johnson bowled fast, on a good length and moving away from the off-stump line to collect a pair of edges from the right-handers Umar Akmal and Misbah-ul-Haq. Johnson did that damage with a ball that was 45 overs old and Ponting said that although Johnson was for now a first-rate first-change, he might return to new-ball duties at some point.
"He fits in our team best as that first-change bowler and he's proven in this game here that with an old ball he's dangerous," Ponting said. "He'll continue to change things, he'll continue trying to work on becoming a very good new-ball bowler as well and if he's working hard on that there's no reason down the track why he can't become that. His record at first change has been great for us."
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo