By Gaurav Joshi
During the Adelaide Test match against England, Ian Healy, former Australian keeper turned Channel 9 commentator said, “Dennis Lillee might have revamped Mitchell Johnson’s action and obviously he has more confidence in himself now, but that doesn’t come overnight. There has to be more than that. .
Johnson’s journey towards regaining the form that had deserted him for long, started during a tournament which all of us like to criticise, believing it is simply a ’cash cow’ that diminishes the development of young cricketers. The Indian Premier League (IPL) or ‘IP-HELL’ as some call it.
Johnson was of one the naughty boys who didn’t do his homework in India, and he also looked pedestrian in the fourth and final Test against India, in March. Had Johnson been then selected in Australia’s squad and thrown into an Ashes arena in England, we could well have seen the headlines “Ditch Mitch.” Luckily, it didn’t happen.
A week after one of Australia’s worst tours in quarter of a century, Johnson landed up in Mumbai playing for Mumbai Indians, a team led by one of his most ardent backers— Ricky Ponting.
The left arm pacer played in 17 out of 19 matches, and ended up with 24 wickets, third highest in the IPL. It was only Twenty20 cricket, but right throughout the tournament, Johnson was gaining confidence. The pace was increasing and so was the belief. Importantly, it was the role he was given by the management and the T20 format that allowed him to bowl in those short sharp bursts. It allowed Johnson to touch speeds in excess of 150 for the first time since that exceptional tour of South Africa in 2009.
One of the coaching staffs from the Mumbai Indians team said after the IPL triumph, “As a coaching staff, we didn’t care if he swung it or not, it was all about bowling nice and quick, Malinga has had huge success because of that theory, and we were confident Johnson could replicate it”
Perhaps this is where the whole nation had gone wrong with Johnson; we always looked at him as an Alan Davidson rather than a Jeff Thomson. Captains and coaches waited patiently for Johnson to imitate the Wasim Akram’s inswingers by trapping batsmen in front of the stumps. Trying to make Johnson into a bowler he perhaps was never destined to be was the biggest mistake that has been made with him.
A day after being left out of Ashes squad for the tour of England, Johnson tore through Chennai Super Kings’ top- order in a burst that was similar to his spells at Brisbane and Adelaide.
So impressive was Johnson, Brett Lee went on to say “Johnson was in the form of his life and was extremely unlucky not to be in the Ashes squad. But Johnson had to bide his time, just like he did quite often in between his short spells in the IPL.
The confidence Johnson gained during his IPL stint would then transform into the Champions Trophy and then the One-Day International (ODI) series against England, both held in England. He was used sparingly and his role was to bowl with hostility rather than gentility.
The new defined role was soon transferred from the IPL into the national colours. The English batsmen were first greeted with Johnson’s brutality in ODI series after the Ashes. Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott were made to hop around, and the maximum amount of overs Johnson bowled in a spell was usually limited to four.
Even on the benign wickets of the sub-continent, Johnson single handledly won Australia a match with his impressive bowling in Chandigarh. He ended up with figures of four for 43. Each one of dismissals was through the route of the short ball in a brief and superb spell of three overs.
Since the start of this calendar year, Johnson has played in four Tests, 22 ODIs and 22 T/20s. It adds up to 64 days of international cricket. It is the most by any Australian bowler this year. In fact, Johnson has made mockery of the rotation policy by playing across all formats; including T20s . It is the shortest format of the game that has transformed him into a bowler that Mitchell Johnson himself perhaps intended to be, while playing for Australia. It’s hard to accept, but the IPL has played a part in his stunning resurgence.
(Gaurav Joshi is an Indian-born Australian who played with Michael Clarke in his junior days. He coaches and reports for a Sydney radio station. Over the years he has freelanced for Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and is a regular on ABC cricket show Cow Corner. He is the author of the book “Teen Thunder Down Under” – The inside story of India’s 2012 U19 World Cup Triumph)
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