By R Vishal
Two years ago, bogged down by his enigmatic displays and constant taunts by the English fan brigade, Barmy Army, a demotivated Mitchell Johnson had considered quitting the game. Fast-forward to 2013, a handlebar moustache, a much straighter arm while release and becoming a father combined with a terrifying demeanour, Johnson mauled England, and by the end of the series had the batsmen ducking for cover at his very presence.
It was truly his pyrotechnics that paved the way for the Aussies to hurl themselves back in being considered the top dogs of world cricket. Mumbai Indians, on the other hand, had hugely benefited from the rejuvenated Johnson in their memorable double sweep of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the Champions League T20 (CLT20) in 2013. On current form, Johnson was surely expected to be retained in place of Lasith Malinga for the seventh edition of the IPL.
Much to the dismay of a lot of the Mumbai Indians’ fans and commentators, the Sri Lankan pacer was chosen ahead of Johnson.
In a way, this move makes sense and the Mumbai outfit needs to be commended for sticking by the man who has made his name and sacrificed even his Test career with his national team to come out all guns blazing in every passing IPL season he has played so far. How do you drop someone who has taken 103 wickets at 17.95 with an economy rate of 6.54? He is the leading wicket-taker in IPL history despite having missed the first season through injury.
Johnson, on the other hand, did make quite an impact with the ball in the previous season and it should be stressed on as to what role would he have been assigned, being amongst the best in the world for the moment.
Malinga’s experience of bowling in the subcontinent and the slinging yorkers on a consistent basis has made him a T20 specialist — something Johnson is not at the moment. But on current form, the lean left-armer can even knock down a truck with the ball if he wanted to.
Malinga is also a few years younger than the Australian: while this has no bearing on bowling four good overs in a match for little over a month, the stereotype that T20 being a young man’s game is still playing on the mind of some cricket-viewing sections.
Injuries might also have played its part in making one of the diciest toss-ups any auction has seen so far. The revised rules didn’t make this process any easier as nobody in the right mind would even consider giving up one over the other.
Johnson has had a history of being blighted by injury problems in his career and a clear proof of his consistency is yet to be seen, despite all his Ashes brilliance. With his limited international calendar scheduling, Malinga has ample time to concentrate on his fitness and focus on the tournament, a commitment that has been missing from most of the England and Australian players, who still view the IPL with a stiff upper-lip.
Most importantly, retaining a core of the team that has yielded so many great results, irrespective of whether they went on to win the tournament in every campaign, is also a fair assessment of where the next three years of Mumbai is headed to.
Now that they no longer have the iconic Sachin Tendulkar as a player in the dressing room, although he may be present as a mentor, it is important to retain the big personalities who have lent the Mukesh Ambani-owned team stability and a solid winning mentality from which the young Indian contingent has thrived on.
While it would have been tempting to pick Johnson over Malinga on current form, the backroom staff of Mumbai should be lauded for their loyalty to the players and preserving a winning nucleus over the current newsmaker.
The retentions of Harbhajan Singh, Kieran Pollard, Ambati Rayudu and captain Rohit Sharma shows just that. And from viewing the most successful team in the IPL over the six seasons so far, Chennai Super Kings, one can bet their life that it is stability and continuity that is the foundation for success in this cricketing mega-event. And who is to say that Mumbai will not use their one ‘Rights to match’ option and get Johnson back!
(R Vishal is a journalist and an alumni of the Asian School of Journalism. He can be followed on Twitter @vishhell)
Also on cricketcountry.com