Mitchell Johnson (center) registered the third best figures by an Australian in South Africa © Getty Images
Mitchell Johnson produced a bowling master class against South Africa in the first Test in Centurion. His total of 12 wickets in the Test helped Australia thump South Africa to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series. Australia have now lived up to the hype and beat the world’s No 1 Test side in their own den. Shrikant Shankar believes that Johnson and Australia’s performances can be a source of comfort for England, who had to face similar wrath only a few weeks ago.
When England lost the Ashes 2013-14 series 5-0, the entire Australian team got credit for it. But one man in particular stood out. Mitchell Johnson took a staggering 37 wickets in the five-match series.. He was 15 wickets better off than anyone else. He bowled with a lot of pace and intimidated the England batsmen. The England camp after the whitewash has been in disarray. They have got rid of their best player in Kevin Pietersen and team director Andy Flower has stepped down. Clearly Johnson has disturbed the England’s team psyche to a great extent.
But many said that Australia’s true test will be on the tour of South Africa. For the last few years, South Africa have been consistently the best side in Test cricket. They have won against almost all the teams home and away. England, though, have been considered as a side on the wane and led by a captain who has been criticised by many former players on his leadership skills, or rather lack of it. The same cannot be said about South Africa. Graeme Smith holds many records as a Test captain that even the likes of Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting and Clive Lloyd do not have.
So, the first Test between South Africa and Australia had been eagerly anticipated by many. Dale Steyn versus Johnson was a key clash many wanted to see. Steyn has been the best bowler for the last five-six years. Johnson has been in and out of the side due to form and injuries. But in Centurion, it was Johnson who exceeded over anyone else. He blitzed the South African batsmen with fiery spells of fast bowling. Johnson took seven wickets in the first innings and five wickets in the second. He had figures of 12 for 127 for the match.
Australia thumped South Africa by 281 runs to take a 1-0 lead. Shaun Marsh, David Warner, Alex Doolan and Steven Smith also contributed with important innings, but it was Johnson who reduced a great South African batting line-up to scores of 206 and 200. The margin of victory, the opposition scores are similar to that of England’s from the Ashes. England played in Australia, whereas South Africa are at home. South Africa are notoriously slow starters in a Test series and Australia are the mirror opposite, but the difference between the teams at Centurion was stark.
South Africa are without the experience of Jacques Kallis, but they are not No 1 in the world because of one man. England’s practical no-show in the Ashes was taken into account for Australia’s victory. Many said that the hype was false, but the huge win has proved that it was no fluke. Johnson might be the main difference, but Australia are also gelling as a unit under Michael Clarke. There is more to England’s losses than dressing room unrest.
There are still two Tests remaining in the series and only then can one draw concrete conclusions as to how good this Australian side really is. At the back of their minds, England and Alastair Cook will be hoping Australia beat South Africa in the series. If Johnson can do this to the best side in the world, then the England players might take this as a source of comfort for what they had to face, well at least for now.
(Shrikant Shankar is a writer/reporter at CricketCountry.com. Previously he has done audio commentary for various matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)