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The multi-talented Anantha Narayan summed a heroic bowling performance by Mitchell Johnson in the ongoing Ashes series with the words, “Mitchell Johnson is now Magic Johnson”. With figures of four for 61, five for 42 and seven for 40 in the three innings he has bowled so far in the series, Mitchell Johnson has truly been magical. Nishad Pai Vaidya writes about Johnson’s magical comeback.
Mitchell Johnson has had his Ashes nightmares. At Lord’s in 2009, a personal crisis spilled onto the field and he was all over the place — taking three for 200 in that game. Then at Brisbane in 2010, he recorded shambolic figures of none for 170. The bowler who once showed that he could produce lethal spells to win games single-handedly was increasingly inconsistent; frustrating for the Australian team management. And, he did return with a spellbinding performance during that Ashes 2010-11 to bowl a brilliant spell at Perth. Yet, was it just a small spark in the midst of a struggle? Three years on, Johnson has regained his menacing touch and it is making the English batsmen hop and dance to his thunderbolts.
After the Ashes 2010-11, there were doubts over Johnson’s Test career. While he did fit into the scheme of things in One-Day cricket, many felt he was too inconsistent for the longer format of the game. Injuries too didn’t help his cause, as he missed out on a few assignments which marred his progress. Then there was that infamous homework-gate fiasco early this year, during the tour to India and the subsequent axing from the Ashes squad in England. A look at Johnson’s record between the previous Ashes Down Under and the ongoing contest reflects the tale:
Between January 2011 and November 2013, Australia played 29 Tests. Johnson missed as many as 20 Tests in this interval for various reasons. For someone who was touted as the natural successor to Glenn McGrath’s generation, Johnson unfolded as an enigma. The decline was evident and he needed something to resurrect his career. Having spent time away from the game, he worked on his action and that has helped him bring back that guile in his bowling.
Johnson is now in ominous form. There is that fear he instils in the batsmen as he runs in to deliver those thunderbolts. In the three innings of the Ashes series so far, his figures read, four for 61, five for 42 and seven for 40 — the last one coming on a batting beauty at Adelaide. A batting line-up that had tormented him at Brisbane the last time around was suddenly in for some serious treatment. The short deliveries have come in at a searing pace and have left the batsmen prodding and protecting themselves.
One of the more interesting tactics has been his approach of coming from around the wicket to the left-handed batsmen. Michael Carberry got a taste of the lethal repercussions when one of the deliveries from Johnson climbed on him awkwardly in the first Test at the Gabba, Brisbane. For Johnson, it is about taking wickets and all the rest is just a part of the game. That killer instinct has found its spark again and every time he runs in, he visualizes his next success. In an interview with this writer for the Mumbai Indians magazine in 2013, Johnson spoke about intimidating the batsmen and its consequences. He said, “My goal as a bowler is to get wickets and part of that is intimidating the batsmen and sometimes there are incidentals.” And, we have certainly seen numerous batsmen taking the brunt of his pace in the past.
With that moustache on, Johnson gets that Merv Hughes-like intimidating look. They say that looks can be deceptive, but not in this case. Give him the ball in his hand now and he will produce some of the most breathtaking spells. This is Johnson 2.0 — a much improved version of the ICC Player of the Year 2009. This is ‘Magic’ Johnson.
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