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.

Tagged ,