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believing in Mitchell Johnson

From the outside it would have looked like any other plumbing van.

It was being driven by a bloke who had lost his state cricket contract. He was once a kid who could bowl seriously fast, but his body was not a weapon – rather, a wasteland of stress fractures. His boss, also his coach, Brett Mortimer, had given him the job as driver.

Mortimer knew there was something special there. Had the bloke disappeared right then, he might not have even been a what-if. When he crashed his van into a team-mate’s, there was no reason for it to make the papers. He was no one; probably one bad week, one niggly injury, from packing up his life and travelling back up the coast and living out his life in obscurity. But Mortimer saw him every day in the nets. And he didn’t need Dennis Lillee to tell him this was a serious bowler. Mortimer had played cricket for years and he’d never seen anything quite like this.

Mortimer had one last crack. With Brendan Nash away on state duty, Northern Suburbs had a space open at the top of the order. So the bloke was thrown up the order to have some fun, instead of being depressed that he couldn’t bowl. He scored well, and while it was never a science, it wasn’t the first time in his life that runs led to wickets. But really, it was about belief with him. It always would be.

No one would have seen that plumbing van and believed there were 310 Test wickets in there. Not even the bloke driving it.


A few years earlier others didn’t believe the speed gun. They looked at it again. There must be something wrong. The speed gun was part of a plan by Queensland to find a real quick. But this quick? Surely not. This 17-year-old kid, wearing his father’s golf spikes, was bowling quicker than the entire Queensland squad. That can’t be right.

Wicketkeeper Chris Hartley was standing 25 metres back in a Queensland Under-19 game. Ed Cowan was facing. Hartley was taking the ball above his head. Hartley and Cowan were sharing glances. This can’t be right.

Dennis Lillee saw this kid in the nets. The kid was already thinking about joining the army to “shoot guns and get fit”. But then Lillee saw this kid bowl and said he was a “once-in-nine-lives player”. This can’t be right.

After Mortimer pulled the plug on Mitchell Johnson’s bad mood, Johnson only took a couple of years to play for Australia. The white ball seemed to love him. It exploded off the pitch and into the gloves of keeper or batsman. You couldn’t watch Johnson bowl at that point and not feel the excitement.

For whatever reason, the red ball didn’t get the hype. Even in Shield cricket, Johnson and the red ball hadn’t got along. Two five-wicket hauls, never more than 29 wickets in a season. But the white-ball work, and hell, just the look of him, it was electric. You didn’t need data analysis, biomechanists and speed guns, you just needed eyes.

Johnson was now also dedicated to cricket. There was no need to drag or convince him. He wanted it. Bad enough that he even travelled to the MRF pace academy in Chennai to work with Lillee. But his numbers didn’t improve.

His early Tests involved wickets from right-handers who chased wide balls. They had to chase them, because otherwise they’d spend hours waiting for one at them. His arm seemed to get lower almost every innings, until he was bowling fast, almost accidental, offcutters. When the batsmen didn’t chase the wide ones, he just let off pressure for whoever was at the other end. After 13 Tests he was averaging 34 with the ball.

Just when the excitement was fading he found a green pitch, against New Zealand, and their tail still shudders about it.

Two Tests later he was up against South Africa on a sluggish wicket (by WACA standards). AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis had the score at 234 for 3; both had half-centuries. Johnson had a ball that was 70 overs old, with no reserve swing, but just his fast, and slightly more accurate, cutters. In 21 balls he took out five batsmen. He ended with 8 for 61. It was a goddamn Curtly Ambrose spell.

In South Africa for the following series he did something he hadn’t done for 20 Tests. He swung a ball perfectly. Hashim Amla could only stutter and lose balance as Johnson struck his pad. Immediately it became the thing his team, and the cricket world at large, fixated on. You could hear people whisper around the world, “No, it can’t be, but maybe it is, a Wasim Akram incarnate”.

In the next Test he made a hundred. Australia were always going to lose. But the way Johnson did it, with such long, fluid hitting, the ball just seemed to want to be smashed over mid-on. Parts of Paul Harris are still left in Cape Town after one over. Johnson’s hundred took 86 balls. In the series he was the leading wicket-taker and Australia’s third-highest scorer. Australia were fighting for the Test crown, and Mitchell Johnson Bothamed South Africa out of the series.

Johnson had almost crushed Graeme Smith’s hand. He’d discovered swing. Terrorised New Zealand. Defeated South Africa. He was the biggest, baddest damn thing in Australian cricket. No one needed Dennis Lillee to tell them how special he was.

And he hadn’t even played a Test against England.

You can smash all the other nations you want. Antagonise India. Destroy West Indies. End Bangladesh. But Australian and English players get their legend status from being great in the Ashes.

That was what Johnson was supposed to do in the 2009 Ashes. He was to lead the attack, continue England’s misery, and confirm he was the legend Australian cricket demanded he be.

By the end of the series, none of those things happened.

Johnson couldn’t bowl England out in Cardiff. Johnson couldn’t stop stories started by his mother. Johnson completely lost the plot at Lord’s. Johnson lost control of the attack. Johnson all but lost his spot in the team. And Johnson couldn’t win the Ashes.

By the time the 2010-11 Ashes came around he was an okay performer in an okay team. The beast that would become a legend was a distant memory. There were good matches, there were bad matches, this was just a cricketer doing his job.

The Gabba Test was a chance to do something special. Johnson took no wickets, made no runs, and dropped a catch. For the next Test he was either dropped, in his words, or rested, in those of Cricket Australia.

There was a moment during the next Test when Johnson was in the Adelaide nets as England smashed his team on the field. During his session, a ball got wedged into the top corner of the nets. Johnson spent the best part of ten minutes trying to get this ball dislodged. He threw balls at it, he shook the net, he tried to climb up, he used a bat, but nothing would do it. He was supposed to be looking to rekindle his magic, and instead he was doing the job of the support staff. And he couldn’t even do that right.

There must have been a part of him that thought he was an impostor. Even at his best, destroying South Africa with bat and ball, it was as if Johnson never believed in himself as much as everyone else did.

Impostor syndrome can hit anyone. Every single person in the world can tell you how good you are, they can praise you, they can idolise you, but some people can’t process it. Can’t accept it. Keep waiting to be found out. Think their success was all luck.

They say it comes from childhood, that sensitive children who are overlooked and then become successful never truly accept it. That even when they win, it all feels like it is a mistake and no one must find out. That the pressure to not be found out almost becomes the problem. They start to believe that because they had no control over their success, they have no way of finding it again.

Not that Johnson wasn’t trying to find it. Whether in the nets, or much more noticeably, out on the ground, Johnson was in a near-constant state of trying to fix his bowling. This didn’t look like a Test bowler who had led his nation. It looked like a teenager hoping that something would fix him. It was far more common to see him trying to fix his action on the walk back to the mark than it was seeing him terrorise batsmen.

The Amla inswinger pressure had never gone away. Being the guy who led an unsuccessful Ashes attack was part of what defined him. Now he had been dropped, one Test into his next Ashes. The pressure and failure was all around him. Johnson couldn’t be what Australia wanted, and worse, he looked like he didn’t even know how to ever do it.

The call was made to Dennis Lillee. Johnson had already spent the week working with his bowling coach, Troy Cooley. He had already watched his spell from 2008 against South Africa to psyche himself up. Now the big gun was needed. Lillee would come and see Johnson in the nets the day before the WACA Test. Lillee wasn’t even sure what he could do for Johnson, so he told Johnson how great he could be.

At the WACA, Johnson was great. His pace was great, his swing was great, and even his batting was great. Sixty-three runs, nine wickets and one Man-of-the-Match award.

But in the press conference he seemed to shrug and suggest the ball swung a bit luckily. The next Test was Boxing Day, and the luck wasn’t there.

The MCG gets into full voice like other stadiums dream of. That sort of guttural, communal, sweaty chorus of echoes. It’s the middle-aged man whose life has never been what he wanted it to be, bellowing at the moon while half cut. They had done it for Lillee. They had chanted his name, turning him from a cricketer into a beam of pure light.

For Johnson the accent of the chants changed. He wasn’t the alpha and omega but the punchline. In his own country, he was a musical joke, a wreck. Even in cricket’s biggest ground there was nowhere to hide. It was overcast during that Test, but the clouds over Johnson seemed the darkest.

After Perth, Johnson only got two massive English innings to bowl in – 2 for 134 and 4 for 168. He had played more than half the Tests he would ever play, and he was still no closer to finding out how to get the best out of himself. He was still bowling to the left. He was still bowling to the right. And now their chanting kept him up at night.

The mental problems weren’t all of it. People can claim it is the all-round skill, the sling action, or even the left arm that makes Johnson exciting, but it’s the pace. That raw, uncontrolled pace that makes the best in their game look slow. That makes tailenders cry. That makes commentators scream. Fans jump. That pace.

That pace was going. There was the odd spell, but mostly he was a fast-medium bowler with questionable control who didn’t seam or swing it. It was at its worst when he played against South Africa in Johannesburg. Johnson seemed to fall into medium pace. Slower than he had been as a teenager using his dad’s golf spikes. At the other end Australia had found their newest pace bowler, Pat Cummins. Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson were around as well.

Johnson was battling injury, form and belief.

In almost three years since the last Ashes in Australia he’d managed nine Tests. His body and mind weren’t right.

This time he couldn’t go to the army and shoot guns. He couldn’t move back to Townsville. He couldn’t drive a plumbing van. He was Mitchell Johnson, and for all the baggage that came with, it also came with something pretty damn special. And Johnson fought for that.

With a stable home life as a new father, a chance encounter with an SAS vet and a career-affirming net session with Lillee and John Inverarity, Johnson started to get himself right. All those people played a part, but it would have meant nothing if he didn’t put in the effort. For the first time, he believed.

The first people to see this were the IPL folk. Then a few teams got glimpses in ODIs. People, Sachin Tendulkar included, started to talk Johnson up again. And, for perhaps the first time ever, so did Johnson. His words didn’t sound hopeful, like they had done earlier in his career. They sounded like a threat, like premonition. As if he saw the summer of Mitchell Johnson before us.

At the Gabba, Johnson started with the new ball. A full toss down the leg side. More full tosses followed. More balls down the leg as well. After three overs of the 2013-14 Ashes, Johnson had been dragged from the attack. There were times when that would have been enough. It wasn’t.

Second spell: Jonathan Trott faced Johnson. First ball, he hit him. He glared. Johnson had never had a good glare. No matter how old he was, he always looked young, fresh-faced, like a boy playing tough. The tattoos didn’t make him tough, nothing did. But this was different. Even without the charity moustache, just looking at his eyes, there was something going on in them. This wasn’t an empty glare. Trott and England felt it. So did every single person at the ground. Every single person at every single ground that summer.

Mitchell Johnson believed. Oh, didn’t we get to see what that meant. All that frustration, all those flirtations, all those false starts, all those injuries, all those chants, all those headlines, all those punchlines, all those days that he felt like a fraud, a lucky bastard, an impostor, they came out of his hand like the devil himself.

There is no way to properly explain what it felt like to see Johnson in full flight in his summer. You can talk about the noises, the fact that for every ball in that Test and the seven that followed, it felt like he was on a hat-trick. About the blood- and stump-lust that took control of you. That at times he looked like he was actually in flight, like some fighter jet roaring through the crease. That in Melbourne the entire ground, the entire city, shook for him like it had for his mentor. That in Adelaide he was one ball away from destroying the entire Adelaide renovations. In Sydney the fear, the excitement, that desperation to see his every ball was still there, still so strong. People were rushing to have grandchildren just to tell them about it. You could feel the pain of England like every wicket was being tattooed on your body. No one dared blink when he had the ball. Smartphones were in airplane mode. Fun times were on pause.

None of that gets it across, the fear, the danger, the pace, the excitement, the carnage. The everything. It was a roller coaster through hell. Like his hands were made of dynamite, like the world had found a new demon soundtracked by an endless death- metal musical.

No, this still isn’t doing it. These weren’t spells of bowling, these were physical experiences. There ain’t no TV that could do it justice, you had to be in it, feel it, live it, survive it, smell it. You weren’t watching it, you were part of it, some great big throbbing muscle thrusting him through the sound barrier. No, still not right.

Sorry, it can’t be fully explained. You weren’t there, man.

It was a once-in-nine-lives summer. Dennis Lillee was right.

And unlike the best of Australian summers, it didn’t end in Australia, it kept going. When Johnson destroyed England, a meme started online. It was a picture of Dale Steyn, pointing down the lens, and the writing said, “You beat the Poms 5-0. How cute.” Steyn had held the title of world’s best bowler for so long it had barely been a decent conversation starter for half a decade.

The old Johnson might have overthought it. Worried about it. This Johnson just bowled. At South Africa, through South Africa.

Hashim Amla almost lost his head. Ryan McLaren his consciousness, Graeme Smith lost his career. Steyn threw everything he had back at Johnson, but even Steyn, the greatest bowler of his generation, had to sit back and watch as another man shook up the world.

When the summer of Mitchell Johnson was over, so were England as a team, South Africa as the undisputed champions. This broken-down non-believer hadn’t just reached out and touched the sun, he had grabbed it and bounced someone with it.


Stuart Broad saw something. Perhaps he just didn’t want to look at Johnson. Not square in the eyes, at least. He pointed to a shiny bolt and turned a ravenous crowd into a screaming beast.

Johnson was already in his dream over with two earlier wickets. He had already bowled his dream ball to Cook the night before. He had already played his dream Test the match before.

Broad wasn’t delaying a ball, he was delaying inevitability. Certainty.

Johnson delivered a fast ball on leg stump. There were days, whole seasons, perhaps even whole years, when the same ball would have been flicked to the boundary. Broad would have fidgeted with his gear while Johnson put his hands to his head.

Now England believed every ball would be a wicket, and so did Johnson, so did everyone.

Broad hopped away from the ball, Broad’s leg stump hopped too.

Mitchell Johnson ran frantically down the pitch. Like he was in the world’s greatest dream.

No one watching this spell could actually believe he was doing this. Let alone the bloke bowling it. He couldn’t believe how easy it had become.

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Monster Johnson goes missing

This season, Mitchell Johnson is not the fearsome fast bowler he was last summer © Getty Images
Last time he was here a No. 8 was feeding time for Monster Johnson.

This time R Ashwin was playing him as if he was just another bowler. A full and straight ball slipped down the leg side. There was no menace. No fear. No explosion. Just a leg bye.

Mitch was mid-pitch, shrugging, looking at his hands, wondering where the magic went.

At the top of his mark, he was sweating so much in his first spell of the day, he had to throw the ball to someone else to shine it.

The next delivery is a half volley, MS Dhoni cover drives it for three. The last ball of his morning spell is pushed through the covers by India’s stylish No. 8, without fear of injury or loss of wicket. Mitch just stares down the pitch for a while, before eventually turning to see where the ball has gone.

Mitch wanders off to fine leg. Warner runs over to tell him where Ashwin is standing in the crease, oblivious to the fact Mitch is going to be taken off. Mitch stands at fine leg, by this point last year, he was winning an Ashes and destroying an era of English cricket.

Now he is sweating uncontrollably, no one is screaming his name, he’s wicketless and fiddling with a bandage around his finger. Around him there are many empty seats.

The Gabba has blue seats, but scattered among them are gold and maroon chairs. It seems like a ploy to trick the mind into thinking there are more people in the ground than there actually are. It also does the opposite. When the Brisbane heat kicks in fully, the ground goes quieter. Vocal chords melt. People disappear to local bars.

Today, they just never seemed to turn up at all. The Gabba can’t intimidate with coloured seats. Seats don’t scream.

Last year as Mitchell Johnson bounced out Trott and KP, it felt like an angry, drunken, rockin’ coliseum from hell. For M Vijay’s boundaries, it was more an amateur Lawn Bowls over-70s event.

There are many differences from this time to last year, but nothing is more noticeable than Mitchell Johnson’s bowling. After one innings. After three. It’s different. This time it is 0 for 81. Last time it was 4 for 61. The time it is 4 for 228. Last time it was 16 for 143. This time it is okay. Last time it was terrifying.

This was the start of Mitchell Johnson’s run of eight Tests for 59 wickets at 15 apiece. Hellfire. Brimstone. Armageddon. Cook. KP. Trott. Smith. Amla. It was one of those amazing stretches of bowling in Test cricket history. It was Syd Barnes’ wickets with Thommo’s pace.

There was no way Johnson could keep that up, especially as not all wickets are Australian and South African. In the UAE, he was okay – six wickets at 29. He was not a fire-breathing dragon from space, just a fast bowler on unresponsive wickets.

Then he came home. Back into the bosom of fast tracks and good times. Adelaide might be known as a bowling graveyard, but not for Mitch. He bowls as well there as anywhere. It might not bounce and have as much movement as the Gabba, bounce as the WACA, or as much of either as the G, but he always finds what he needs there.

Not this time.

Like in the UAE, Mitch was not hopeless, he was just okay. His working over of a well-set Vijay was beautiful. But that was the only time he was that good. That awesome. That monster.

There have been glimpses of aggression from Mitchell Johnson in this series, but it has not been sustained for any period of time © Getty Images
Photo by: Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber/a
This Test he is also without Ryan Harris, as he was in both UAE games. Mitch Johnson does miss Ryan Harris. It’s hard not to, he has gravitational pull. Harris is fast, accurate, cunning and relentless. He’s essentially the human version of the truck from Duel. Bowling at the other end to him must be a dream. Having him at mid-on or off would be like having an on-field bowling coach. In three of Mitch’s last four Tests, there has been no Harris.

In Brisbane, when it got hot and quiet, what would have been better than Harris standing next to Mitch?

A scientific study of Mitch’s bowling speeds show he is down on pace. As scientific as ball speeds can be. Not to a career low, but to a new era Monster Johnson low. Two kilometres lower on average. That’s not a yard of pace, that’s a handful of inches. Maybe those inches of lost pace are that nip people are always talking about. But is 88 mph so different to 89.5?

It would seem like regardless of a fraction of a nip, or Ryan Harris’ injury, there is something else. Last time there was also the build up. It was the Ashes. And the last one hadn’t healed yet. Words were said in the media. The Courier Mail started newspaper bodyline. Mitch was raring to make a comeback. He’d missed a whole Ashes. The Test was all anyone in Brisbane wanted to talk about. He started by smashing runs in it to save Australia. The crowd was practically foaming at the mouth before Trott was out. They were whipped into a carnivorous frenzy.

This time there was a funeral.

It’s been said that deep in the bubble of the Australian Cricket Team no one took the news harder. Then to compound it was the bouncer that struck Virat Kohli on the crest. And maybe it’s too easy to say that it was that that changed Mitch, but no one else in that Test looked as shaken as he did on that walk down to Virat.

When Umesh Yadav was facing Johnson, there was no feeling of impending doom. Like every time a South African or England tailender faced him. In one full over, Mitch bowled one bouncer. Yadav twirled away from it for survival. It wasn’t followed up. There were no leg gullies. No one walked up from slip. The crowd wasn’t getting worked up. Mitch just bowled the last two balls full. One of which Yadav played from near square leg as he assumed he was going to be under attack. He wasn’t.

In this series Mitch has bowled bouncers. But there has been no sustained fire-breathing. The quickest ball in the match was from Umesh Yadav, not to him.

When the new ball was taken yesterday, Mitch took it. He bowled wide down the leg side. Then got his line right. Then got his line wrong, four. Then got his line right. Then got his line wrong, two. Then got his line wrong. Full and wide. The speed gun said 90 mph. Rahane played it like a kid had flicked down a lollipop. It was a long wide half-volley, one of a huge number.

Johnson then turned and walked very slowly back to fine leg. Warner came up to him and gave him a rub on the shoulders. Johnson didn’t even seem to notice. His hips looked sore. He was hot, or cooked.

When he got to fine leg, he had to tape up his own injured fingers. There he stood, wicketless. This time Mitch was the one putting on bandages. Last time it was the others.

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Johnson and Smith: a short rough love affair

February, 2014

The ball punches the pitch, and cracks into Graeme Smith who seems to react only as the ball leaves him. It loops up slowly and the crowd make noise accordingly. It is just off the pad. Not out. It is the first ball Smith faces from Mitchell Johnson.


There is not much time to think between the ball leaving Johnson’s hand and the batsman having to deal with it. It is like a camera flash, or a political back-flip.

You can have a plan, you can think it through, but the ball just comes out of his hand and you react. There are some batsmen who revel in that. See ball, hit ball.

Not enough time for clear rational thought. There is not enough time to think about past deliveries, or history, it just happens.

January, 2009

A full ball that that should never have damaged anyone, but spat up and took the left massive hand of Smith. His hand disappeared like he had been zapped by a ray gun. For a second Smith was lost, the pain confused him, he was walking around in a circle towards point. And only then did he eventually find the culprit, which had gone off to fine leg to allow him to get off strike. But the damage was done, and he would only come back into to bat at No. 11, with a broken hand.


There is a bowling machine that players have used to try and learn the mystery and tricks of certain players, the Pro Batter. You can face Morne Morkel, Lasith Malinga or even Mitchell Johnson.

But you can’t program it with superhuman confidence. You can’t give it artificial menace. And you can’t play against it like it is a real force of nature. It is a computer game with real elements. Nothing more. All you can do is try and pick up a few tricks that you hope the next time you play will come in handy.

South Africa have used the Pro Batter, they have also faced Johnson at his old best. They should know how to play him. Smith has faced him more than most. They have survived him at the WACA, after he took 8 for 61, they milked him on their chase beyond 400 to win, they have played him ten times. They know him.

Well, they knew the old him. This new one is relentless and brutal, like a zombie girl group, or a current affairs reporter. This Mitchell is worse and better than anything that can be made with CGI or the old model.

March, 2009

Off the ground, looking at point, one hand off the bat, the right hand protecting his throat and being smashed into the bat handle. That is how Smith found himself as he just tried to survive a delivery. The ball did not take his wicket, he did end up in hospital.


Smith is respected all over the world. He has scored almost 10,000 Test runs. He has done that at almost an average of 50. He has 27 Test centuries. He is the captain and leader of the world’s best Test team.

Smith is South Africa’s top order monolith. Strong, calm and reliable. The young warrior who took over the side and pushed them higher than they had ever been. All with a bottom handed technique that makes even his best shots look like a solid uppercut.

His place in the world of cricket is safe and secure, and he could retire tomorrow and be remembered for decades.

In nine Tests he has been dismissed by Johnson five times and sent to hospital twice. Today Johnson tried to do both in one ball.

February, 2014

The ball leaves the pitch with a mission to break the jaw or eye socket of Smith. There is no time. There is nowhere to hide. There is no way out. Smith can ever be hit in the face, or try and play the ball. His body is doing in one direction, his face another. His bat is jerking upwards not like a cricket shot, but like he is fending off a surprise Pterodactyl attack. The ball hits the bat, more by pure chance than design. The ball flies high, and all of the slips, (there are a few, but it seems like hundreds), arch their necks up at once, and watch it float behind them. Shaun Marsh chases, and chases, while the batsmen easily cross, and at the last minute he reaches the ball to barely take the catch.


Graeme Smith faced two balls from Mitchell Johnson today.

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Attempting to explain Mitchell Johnson

A full toss down the legside is as bad a ball you can bowl in cricket. It is a ball so bad it is almost as if it was designed just so it could not get a wicket. It is how Mitchell Johnson started his day.

After three overs of few good balls, extra nervous paces in his run up and some shocking balls down the legside, Johnson was off. The new ball was being wasted. The only ball that showed that a good day was possible was a very full ball to Michael Carberry that swung late and beat him. But the seam told a story. Instead of being straight like Ryan Harris or James Anderson would present it, it was all over the place. The ball seemed to swing more because it felt sorry for Johnson, rather than anything else.

The second spell only happened because of Harris’s controlled probing of Alastair Cook. But as Jonathan Trott came in, Johnson was reborn. Again.

Australians don’t see the IPL. So performances there don’t count for much. Five wickets in one Shield match doesn’t change much either. Australians often don’t watch tours, especially one-day tours. And the Champions Trophy is often, and easily, ignored.

But the talk of Johnson continued to grow. Of course, anyone can pick up a few IPL batsmen and scare them. Often a foreign quick is the first they’ve seen. And as a white ball bowler, in Australia and otherwise, Johnson has often had series and years where he travels from ground to ground scaring the hell out of any poor batsmen who have to face him. It is not often happened like that in Tests.

He can talk up his form, Brett Lee can talk up his form, Allan Border can talk up his form, David Warner can talk up his form, and hell, even Sachin Tendulkar can talk up his form, but this is Test cricket. A form of cricket where Johnson has spread his absolute worst around many times. He would not be bowling to a skinny kid from Karnataka who has never seen a quick bowler before, or bowling with a white ball that swings if you get the seam roughly in the right place. This was the real deal, the place he had been and failed many times before.

The last time England were at the Gabba, Johnson was at his worst. And his worst is something that is almost special in its completeness. The ball turns into his enemy, his head almost retracts into his chest, and he has the perfect facial expression that combines gormless confusion and utter despair. 0 for 170 and a dropped catch were what he gave.

The next Test he played after being dropped/rested, Johnson was man of the match.

“The television does not do any justice to the physicality of Johnson” is how Ed Cowan described what it is like to face him. It’s not immediately obvious as he walks up to his mark what a brute he is.

Ryan Harris walks to his mark like a man about to pick up a truck and beat his enemy to death with it. Johnson has polite, eager, controlled steps, like an office worker who wants to go to the far sandwich shop to get his falafel wrap, but is worried about how long it will take.

When finally at the top of his mark, Johnson’s flick of the ball to himself is effete, coming out of the back of his wrist. It is not going to intimidate anyone.

Then it all changes when he comes in. The crouch and power run-up start are much more intense and the massive step and sling (which according to Ed Cowan “takes an eternity for the ball to be launched towards you”) is pretty intimidating. On a bad Mitch day, none of this is that big of a problem; on a good Mitch day, all of this plays into his force.

And his force looks increased. Maybe it’s the masculine moustache, but his face looks tougher and his body looks stronger. He was never not well put together. Now he looks even bigger and more brutal. One journalist described his calves as practically exploding. And maybe he is wearing a tighter shirt these days, but even his veins seem to have muscles on them.

Moustache or not, at times he had a boy’s face that made him look like a cuddly fast bowler that you could almost feel sorry for. Today he did not.

The spell that was supposed to be at Trott started with 12 straight balls at Carberry. At one stage, four out of five of them were bouncers. He also put a few down the leg side, perhaps to get Carberry off strike, but more likely he just had no control. A leg slip was brought in, but a second, finer fine leg could have helped as well.

When he finally got to Trott, he was different. Cook and Carberry had played him without much trouble. With Trott he just assumed the batsman would struggle. Straightaway he slammed him on the gloves. Mitch stared at Trott in such an intense way; the old Mitch would have been afraid. Trott’s defence was to hop across his stumps and scoop the ball away. It showed a fear and frailty in Trott that you almost never see.

Next over, Mitch bowled an innocuous ball down the leg side, Trott continued to jump to the off side, and this time got some bat behind to Haddin.

It was clearly a plan, and it was clearly intentional, but the actual plan was for Trott to receive a ball flying up at his ribs from around the wicket that he could not get out the way of, not just feather a ball he should not have been able to reach. In many ways, Mitch is master of the accident. He created the mistake, but had he bowled a better ball he probably wouldn’t have got the wicket.

Fast bowlers have such a reputation that one admitting to getting counseling to get over ribbing from the crowd (even well-organized bullying) would usually seem out of place. But no one was surprised when Mitch said he got some counselling to overcome what the Barmy Army put him through. His frailties have never been hidden.

The Barmy Army were never going to let him off easy this time, and a few good showings with the white ball weren’t about to stop them chanting their well-known rhyming verse.

This time he almost seemed to want it. He was talking about attacking throats and targeting batsmen, this from a man seemingly on the verge of tears at many times in his career. If he could not get England out, he was happy with putting them in hospital. He had even noted they had flown left-armers in to prepare for him. England, being the arch planners they are, would always do that. But he saw it as a personal victory. Another confidence boost for the new improved Mitch.

There is a theory that when Johnson bats well, he bowls well. It does occasionally happen. His only hundred was in a game where he took 4 for 148. And one of his 10-wicket hauls came when he scored a pair. So it is not science. But no one who has even casually glanced at Johnson would see him as anything other than a confidence player.

When he bowled to Carberry around the wicket, he looked like a completely different bowler to the one that Carberry had blunted easily all day. The first ball crashed into Carberry; he jumped in anticipation as George Bailey scrambled for it. There was no bat on it, but it seemed to excite Johnson greatly. The next ball was a very quick bouncer, and a terrible attempted hook from Carberry. Next ball Carberry was out.

Root’s wicket was just a standard full and wide Johnson ball; it could have happened on any day, even one of his bad days. Swann’s wicket was granted by a guy who was thinking of short balls when he got a full one, and despite Johnson trying to decapitate Broad and Tremlett, he couldn’t get the fifth wicket he obviously deserved.

At the end, Johnson had taken nearly half the wickets and gone for nearly half the runs. Johnson upset some batsmen, frightened others and roughed up almost all of them. He has been more brutal, on pitches just as lifeless, but he had not done it much when people had talked him up to this extent. He had never looked as brutal for so long. And he had almost never done it when people really expected him too.

Days like this do not forgive him for the many bad days, they just make him even more frustrating. Also exciting, as you know you’re probably going to get something quite newsworthy from him, one way or another. There are few players who can win a Test so quickly. For either team.

Johnson might not win Australia another Test this series. He might not win them this one. He might get dropped before the end of it. He might never win Australia another Test. And this time next year he might have played his last-ever Test match. All of that is possible in the career of Mitchell Johnson. His future is as unpredictable as his next delivery.

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Yes, Mitchell Johnson is back, and that makes you fear like nothing since the last time you looked directly at an image of Peter Borren.

Some fear he will play, and fail, and lose Australia a series.

Others fear he will play, and fail, and their team won’t ever get to play against him again.

I fear he won’t fail and he’ll never ever go away.

Mitchell and I have this sort of long lasting cycle of violence between each other that he doesn’t know about and I can’t escape. But, if he’s not around, then I can continue with my life in a sort of semi normal kind of way. Because Mitchell is the ultimate bad ex-girlfriend. And this latest comeback is the ultimate accidental late night sext to a new boyfriend ever.

But some people love him, and while I haven’t been able to find many, here is by far the best one.

Yeah, leave him alone, perhaps in a cave, with an immovable boulder in front of it.

If you want to correspond with the sexy bastard in the video, he can be found here.

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Mitchell Johnson’s Zombocalypse

Last night I had a dream about zombies. I’m not sure why. I haven’t been watching more zombie films than usual lately, just [rec] and the Walking Dead, which and both of those were over a week earlier. This was an actual dream, it’s legitimately not made up. And is probably the longest dream I’ve ever had in that it seemed to start when I first went to bed and finish when I woke up.


I was in the middle of a zombocalypse, although the problem is you don’t know their zombies until they’re trying to bite you.  It’s like a real zombie attack would be, you start with confusion over why a bunch of junkies are trying to bite you.

Once I got the picture, I ran off from the zombies, they were the slow moving kind because even in my subconscious I like to pay homage to the originals.

In that sort of weird dream way I saw a house up a hill and made my way there. Probably because it was double story house that reminded of night of the living dead.

In the house were 8 different people who never really got implanted into my memory; this meant I knew they’d die.

We green our own food and had two permanent guards stationed outside.

One bad night we lost one person.  He was eaten in front of us as we defended our house.

To stop this happening again we put tight string around the perimeter of the house at waist high, in four different rings, with bells attached So that zombies would ring four different bells before they got close. And if a guard saw or heard the zombies they could also ring the bells directly to get us all up quickly.

It worked for a while, but they must smell you, because the first attack is only two or three, but then there’s 4, or 7, then 20. Before long we were having four people on patrol, then six. It didn’t matter, you couldn’t sleep anyway. You were more useful outside the house half asleep because you can react quicker.

We lost two more one night, and one of my fellow bleeders gets bit and I have to shoot her in the head.  She’s a young girl, but I do what I have to. After that night we started to fight. Everyone had their own plan, but none of them are that feasible.  We just continue to get more scared and tired.

One night while I’m asleep I hear them break in into the house. I don’t know what has happened to the rest of them.  The only way out is to fight down the stairs past about 5 zombies.

Zombies are slow, but they’re not easy to kill. Hitting them hard enough on the head to stop them is not easy and in a hall or stairway you can’t get around them easy. Also, you get tired from hitting them, taking zest out of your next shot, and swinging a cricket bat straight down is not something you’ve learnt to do from a MCC coaching manual or a lifetime of playing cricket.

Somehow, mostly with luck, I get past them all and once I’m in the open I manage to slip away.

For weeks I roam around barely keeping alive, killing the odd zombie, eating whatever food I can find.  Quite often it was raw dead birds.

One day I see what appears to be a young couple stacking up zombie corpses out the front of a house.

I go over, but when I get close the guy takes out a gun and points it at me.  Soon I realise why, I’m skinny as fuck, probably look like a psycho, have some zombie’s guts on me and am holding a samurai sword in one hand and an old Duncan Fearnley in the other. Not sure what it was a Duncan Fearnley, I’ve never used one.

Eventually they trust me and I help them with the bodies that they are building up to mask their smell.  It’s a good theory.  And for a couple of weeks we live pretty comfortably.

Then one day a zombie just turns up, and over the following days more come.  We kill them, but once 7 turn up at once, I know this place isn’t safe, I try to convince the couple, but they don’t believe me.

Now I’m walking down a train track and I think almost look enough like a zombie to get by.  Until I pass a bunch zombies eating a dead dog, and they smell me.

They come over and I attack them.  It’s not as easy as it first was.  I have to hit them three or four times to get them to re-die.  I can no longer run around, I’m barely quicker than they are, so I end up with one on top of me inches away from biting me.  I mange to roll him over and then break his jaw with the handle and smash him over and over again with the bat, even long after he’s stopped moving.

I don’t even hear the helicopter suddenly I’m being whisked away to a safe haven by the government.  They ask me what I do, I tell them I’m a cricket writer that leads them to sitting me next to someone I recognise.  I might look like shit, but this guy looks fresh as a daisy, he even smells like he’s showered and he looks very refreshed.

“Hi, I’m Mitchell”


“Nice to meet you.

How the fuck did you manage to survive?

“Don’t know really, I just did”.

You don’t have a scratch on you, did you even run into a zombie.

“No, managed to avoid them, lucky, huh?”

Fucken cunt.


And then I woke up.



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The KP and Mitch relationship

While I may have an abusive relationship with Mitch, KP’s relationship with him is much different.

You only had to look into KP’s eyes while he denounced any possibility of having a relationship with Mitch to know it was something quite special.

Last week it was Mitch saying that KP was a smart ass and that KP hadn’t seriously asked for his number.

On the surface this could be just ashes byplay that means less than nothing other that keeping newspapers printing.

Ofcourse, that’s what they want you to think.

In truth this all started long ago when KP was playing in Brisbane and he saw Mitchell in his short plumbing shorts.

No it didn’t.

If you expect some sort of cricket slash story involving Mitch unclogging KP’s pipe this isn’t the place.

KP and Mitch have no relationship.

None whatsoever.

It wasn’t until last week that KP even knew Mitch existed.  Before getting bowled he thought Mitch was a net bowler who kept accidently walking out on the pitch.

And Mitch still can’t tell KP from Trott.  Cooley sent him out with a note that said, “KP is the one with the camp Saffa accent”, but Mitch couldn’t tell which one of them sounded like a camper.

Both men could be in the same elevator without any sexual tension being noticeable to a third party.

Their relationship is not professional or platonic, it simply fails to exist.  Like Mitch’s inswinger a fortnight ago.

When Mitch was dropped (rested) and KP was (rested) dropped, they didn’t console each other.  There were no soothing text messages or kind digital words of any kind.

Mitch just continued his gormless existence and KP went about his life in KP land.

Although, if they did have a sexual relationship…. No, can’t even try and go there, imagining that is worse than watching a Mitch short ball down the legside or KP sweeping Hauritz off his head.  Although if you combine the two naked and that is exactly how they would go about it.

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Greg Chappell land

Last night Greg Chappell said that Mitchell Johnson had been rested.

Mitchell Johnson said that Mitchell Johnson had been dropped.

Andrew Hilditch said Michael Beer would play and his knowledge of the WACA would be important.

Michael Beer didn’t play and Ponting has now said his knowledge of the conditions of Melbourne will help.

There are even rumours that the four man pace attack was not a plan but more an accident.  Like Michael Beer’s selection.

Australia won this test.

I mean really won.

Smashed by an innings and coming back to win by over 200 runs.

How is it possible that this team with this band of merry muppets who don’t even seem to know what is going on around them can win a test so easily.

Especially when they not only beat England, but also the momentum of the Adelaide win.

I like to think that Australia beat England and Greg Chappell beat the momentum. It is his windmill and he rode that donkey straight for it.

Unfortunately the donkey still might not play next game, it was always going to be rested.

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My abusive relationship with Mitchell Johnson

It started before I even saw him. The use of the words ‘once in a generation’ made me keen to know more.

When I first saw him I didn’t think much, he was just a dumb kid and he wasn’t what I was looking for. Unlike the rest, I never fell for the left arm types; I don’t care what arm you use as long as you use it well.

Then he disappeared, and I must admit, I barely gave him a second thought.

When he came back I thought it was a bit weird, but then when he made it to the top level it really annoyed me. This dude had been driving a van for a plumber instead of trying to please me, why would I want him around?

It didn’t matter by this point, he was in my life whether I wanted him or not.

This, and his constant wide deliveries, really got to me. Every time Lee or Clark put the pressure on, this young buck with a stupid piercing would come on and let it all off.

Then he got better. He still bowled wide, but he took wickets as well. Without noticing my feelings change, suddenly it became apparent that I really liked him. The two old guys meant very little to me, it was all about Mitchell.

By the time he took South Africa down he was the only one I wanted.

Leading into the Ashes I wasn’t worried about too much, just that Mitchell would get injured. I couldn’t stand the thought he’d get hurt.

Then it all went wrong. During the ashes all I wanted was for him to get hurt.

That followed with a year of him being vile to me. Really fucken nasty at times. I tried to be nice to him, but when he goads you like that you just can’t help yourself.

It was sick and wrong, we were entrapped in hatred, that is how these relationships go, you can’t live with each other and you can’t kill the other person by drowning them in a soiled toilet.

This went on for the longest time, until I and everyone else were sick of him. Finally, he was gone. The cycle of hate could end.

That wasn’t true though, he wasn’t really gone. He was still around, just not in front of me, it just seemed like I could move on, find new people, become happy without him.

It just didn’t happen that way.

The other men were just as miserable as him, and he was quickly back. Way too quick for me.

Then he does this. Given me so much in one day. I can barely contain myself. While I might hate him for all the shit he brings me, when he is kind, he is very very kind.

The problem is, as good as I feel today, how will I feel in a week, a month, a year.

These moments of bliss wont last. He’ll quickly become abusive to me again. It will turn ugly. I’ll abuse him. We’ll turn to hate and try to make life as painful as possible for each other.

The cycle is set to continue. I speak out because I fear I am not the only one.

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balls profile: mitchell johnson

If you imagine the whole world is a scary place where anything could kill you, now you’re thinking like Mitchell Johnson. His tongue and labrette piercings were no preparation for the pain he would feel on the 09 Ashes trip. Given the gift of express pace and the power to lift the ball out of the ground there should be nothing stopping him. This is not the case. Instead is more like a lion scared by mice. His left arm slingy action is fast, proper fast. Facing it must be like being stuck in a horror film that is so bad it’s good. Has a brilliant knack of getting wickets just after every Australian in the crowd has demanded he be taken off. Once gave up cricket to drive a van for a plumber. Is not an all rounder, probably never will be as he leaves the cricket the ball much like Christopher Walken would have in Deer Hunter.

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