Time to take a break, Mitch
Any captain wants one of two things out of his pace spearhead, and ideally he’d like both.
Firstly, he wants strike power in the mould of Jeff Thomson, whose famous sandshoe crusher broke both Tony Greig’s foot and England’s resolve in the corresponding match at the Gabba way back in 1974.
Secondly, he wants unerring accuracy. He wants to be able to throw the ball to his main man and say “hey if you can’t get rid of them, at least dry the runs up and build a bit of pressure”.
Mitchell Johnson currently is failing on both counts, and has been for a while.
Today, I thought I’d give Johnson his fair chance and watch every ball of his spell after the lunch break, then analyse it with something approaching an even hand.
Here’s what I saw: a bowler getting little or no swing or seam movement, whose pace never got near 140 km/h and who never came close to threatening the batsmen.
By the first ball of the fourth over, when Johnson slung down one of his customary legside shockers that went for four byes, I’d seen enough. By the end of the fifth over, Ricky Ponting had too. Hopefully the selectors will now feel the same.
This is not a gratuitous “sack someone” piece after England’s massive second innings recovery in Brisbane. Neither is it a case of discounting Johnson’s previous deeds in the Baggy Green. The simple fact is, Johnson’s recent numbers do not even come close to adding up.
In nine Tests in 2010, Johnson’s bowling average is an unacceptable 40 (that’s 40 runs conceded for each wicket taken). In his six career outings against England, he’s averaging the same mark.
After his Ashes shocker in England in 2009, Johnson admitted he’d lost his nerve, especially at Lord’s. But he’d found the key again, or so he said before this series. The man named 2009 ICC cricketer of the Year was back. For real. Well, according to the man named 2009 ICC Cricketer of the Year, anyway.
Fact is, since mid 2009, Johnson hasn’t looked like the sort of cricketer who’d win a game of the ridiculously simplistic but addictive free online game stick cricket.
Since Johnson’s Test debut in 2007, we’ve heard Ad nauseam the story of Dennis Lillie, who saw Johnson at a junior academy and immediately labelled him a “once-in-a-lifetime talent”.
Maybe so. But Johnson, at 29, is now decidedly middle-aged, even in the geriatric ward known as the Australian cricket team. And in cricketing terms, he’s clearly having a midlife crisis.
There are all kinds of aspersions which might be cast over Johnson’s mental and/or emotional state, not least because of this super weird tug-of-war between Johnson’s Mum and his girlfriend in 2009.
But this isn’t about Mitchell Johnson’s head. This is about his body, which has been bowling rubbish since mid 2009, give or take a decent spell or two in this year’s midyear series against Pakistan.
Sport is littered with erratic geniuses, and they’re great to watch in the AFL or NRL, where they can get away with the odd shocker in a league where the public focus is spread across 500 or 1000 footballers.
But in a sport where the public only cares about one team, there is no room for weakness in the 11 spots up for grabs. Of those 11 spots, just three are reserved solely for pace bowlers. Given that equation, erratic performances are completely unacceptable. Especially when, as mentioned, the strike power just isn’t there as a counterweight.
There is one very good reason for keeping Johnson for the second Test in Adelaide, which is that in three visits to that venue, he has taken six, five and eight wickets respectively, at a combined average of 23.
But there’s an equally good reason to drop him, which is that virtually all Australian batsmen of our recent great dynasty – from the Waughs to Langer and Hayden and even Ponting – were dropped at one stage and returned as better cricketers after reaffirming their talent at state level. Why shouldn’t this theory apply to bowlers as well?
Who to replace him with at Adelaide? That’s one for the selectors, though you can’t help wishing local boy Shaun Tait hadn’t declared himself unavailable for longer forms of cricket. Batsmen around the world are genuinely scared of Tait. No one’s scared of Johnson at the moment.
No one, that is, except the person who washes Brad Haddin’s clothes after he’s flung himself across the turf trying to stop yet another Johnson wide from reaching the boundary.
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