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The Johnson Factor

Alastair Cook’s faced resembled that of rabbit caught red handed in the headlights as the losing captain was announced at the presentation ceremony of the Adelaide Test. Shocked, dazed, confused, bemused – these weren’t the words England wanted to be described with as they landed on Australian soil, ready to defend the Ashes they’ve proudly retained since that fateful day in 2009. Yet something or rather, someone has sent a huge jolt up this England team’s backside, and where once there was confidence and assurance that the urn would be safely kept, there now lies trepidation, fear and a little disturbance that is wriggling around the back of every England batsman’s mind….

That little disturbance is the newly rejuvenated Mitchell Johnson. On a flat, seemingly batting friendly wicket at Adelaide, he had England hopping, ducking and trembling with fear as he fired thunderbolt after thunderbolt at their flailing bodies. Each man’s attempt to usurp Johnson from his sky high confidence failed, as they either poked at balls that should’ve been left, or were clean bowled through the gate from sheer pace. It was as much a poor batting performance from England as it was an outstanding effort from Johnson. However, this is what clinical, effective out-and-out fast bowling can do to you. If we look at the line-up  of England’s batting card, all of their top batsmen excluding Carberry, Stokes and Root have had considerable experience in the Test match arena, yet they were listless and clueless against a man whom the cricket world had essentially ‘discarded’ more than six months ago. Extreme fast bowling, no matter how much experience one may have with batting, is always a scary proposition to face when the focus deviates from protecting one’s wicket to protecting oneself, and England was shivering.


Already in this series, Johnson has leapfrogged to the top as the leading wicket taker, bagging 17 at a mindboggling 12.70. His addition to Michael Clarke’s side has given this Australian outfit a much meaner, stronger and dangerous look to it, and where it once appeared as though England’s Ashes retention would be a swashbuckling cakewalk, the Poms now face an uphill battle to save the little urn. It is quite interesting though, to note just how quickly fortunes can change in the game of cricket. Johnson did not feature in a single Test during the Ashes series in the UK this year. It was as though he was discarded, forgotten, rejected; never to be seen again. A wasted talent, some would say. He couldn’t bowl straight to save his life, others chimed. His statistics certainly reflected that; where he once collected four wickets or more every two or three games, it had now trickled to almost none or one or two at best. His economy rates ballooned out of control; in the 2009 Ashes series, Trott and friends were casually scoring off Johnson at almost six an over in the Lord’s Test. South Africa came earlier, and although Johnson gave Smith a broken hand, the Proteas still considered him a weak link in the Aussie attack. He still had the talent, but something had been missing from his skillset for a while, something that made him so dangerous and potent in the past it caused batsmen to quiver in their boots, and play in ways unnatural to them.


Belief. That’s what the missing link to Johnson’s success was. Belief that he could win, belief that he could deliver for the team, belief that he could back his own ability, that’s what had been forgotten. And once he found his belief, the control came back. The pace came back, the accuracy, the swing, the aggression; his powers had been summoned back like a long lost friend. As long as Johnson believes in himself, and backs his tremendous ability, there is a chance that Australia can slowly make their way to the top of Test rankings once again, although it will take a gargantuan effort from the whole team, not just one man. However, Johnson has provided the inspiration and belief that Australia can do it, and his success has rubbed off on the other players. Already Clarke has scored two hundreds in this series, Warner is looking aggressive and Haddin has found outstanding form with the bat as well. The debutant Bailey has also chimed in with solid half centuries, proving himself to be a very valuable asset to the side. The other quicks, Siddle and Harris have bowled a much disciplined line and length, allowing their spearhead to attack, and Nathan Lyon is actually spinning the ball now and is finally getting the drift and turn every offspinner should hope to achieve. It is true as they say, when you allow your light to shine; you give permission for others to do so as well.


The third Test is at Perth, which has been a happy hunting ground for Johnson of late. Having collected 36 wickets in five matches at a freakish average of 19.66 with best figures of 8 for 61, there will be no respite for England from the wrath of Johnson as he prepares to deliver another barrage of fast paced thunderbolts. Australia can also lay confident to the fact that England’s last Test win at the WACA ground dates back to almost 1978, and this was against a virtual Australian second XI as Kerry Packer had taken the real Aussie team for his then ludicrous World Cricket Series. It is most definitely an uphill task for England, as no team has ever come back from being 2-0 down in an Ashes series, apart from Bradman’s side way back in 1936-37. As long as the ‘Johnson Factor’ is humming well with the Aussies this summer, there will no reckoning as to what he will be able to achieve with the cricket ball this series, with the Poms now severely on the back foot.


Be warned England, Mitchell Johnson is slowly rising from the abyss, and now, those Barmy Army song lyrics about him don’t seem to make sense anymore.


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