By Prakash Govindasreenivasan
Australia are in a spot of bother. Having conceded the Ashes, they would have been eager for redemption in the return leg starting in November. But, that seems a distant dream, as injuries have taken the life out of the Australian pace battery, just two months ahead of the series.
Ryan Harris, who stretched himself and proved his fitness by playing more than three Test matches in a row for the first time, has been hit by a hamstring injury that has put his spot in doubt. Mitchell Starc was hit by stress fractures to his back that have most certainly ruled him out of the series. Youngster Pat Cummins, who would have loved to make his Test debut in the Ashes series, suffered yet another injury setback.
There can be no better time to bring back Mitchell Johnson. The left-arm pacer, who was left out of the Ashes 2013 series, has shown his desire and intent to revive his Test career. To judge him purely on the basis of his performance in the Ashes 2010-11, where he went astray in line and length after a successful outing in Perth, is a bit unfair. Johnson seems to have come a long way after being subjected to innumerable taunts and constant bickering from a large section of opposition fans.
Another positive sign has been his ability to generate genuine pace. There is distinct change in the way he bowled in the second One-Day International (ODI) against England. Johnson has switched back to his longer run up. Both his wickets in the game came off deliveries bowled in excess of 90mph.
There are clear signs that Johnson is desperate to claw his way back into the Test side and is leaving no stone unturned. The Australian management will also see multiple benefits of bringing the southpaw back into the side. For starters, he will spearhead the attack and take the pressure off the younger and inexperienced lot like James Pattinson and Jackson Bird. The Ashes 2013 saw Australia put the responsibility of delivering the goods on two 23-year-old pacers in Pattinson and Starc. In the end, the pressure got the better of them and their bodies, with both suffering injuries.
Even if Pattinson returns, the pressure of responsibility on him needs to be severely reduced if he is to excel. In such a situation, Johnson leading the pack sounds like Australia’s best bet. If numbers are anything to go by, then Australia have another reason to pick Johnson. The left-armer has dismissed Ian Bell, England’s hero in their 3-0 Ashes 2013 victory, the most number of times in Test cricket.
With uncertainty looming large over almost every fast bowling option, it is only safe to say that Australia need Mitchell Johnson now more than ever.