Mitchell Johnson is back and England will have to be careful, very careful of him! © Getty Images
Mitchell Johnson is back and England will have to be careful, very careful of him! © Getty Images

Mitchell Johnson was the destroyer in chief of England in Australia. He had taken 37 wickets in five Tests in Ashes 2013-14 and a lot was expected from him in the first Test at Cardiff. Johnson ended up with his worst Test figures, Australia lost the Test by a huge margin, they were 0-1 down in the Ashes 2015. Australia were under pressure, and so was Johnson. He roared back to his best on an unresponsive pitch to blow England out and reopen the old wounds for Australia to add to England’s misery. Nikhil Popat writes on how Johnson turned it around for himself and his team as they won the second Test by 405 runs to level the series 1-1.

‘He bowls to the right, he bowls to the left’ was the chant by which Mitchell Johnson was being subjected to by the Barmy Army in The Ashes 2009. He did not feature in the 2013 tour of England and what he did in Australia is well documented by now. A lot was expected by Johnson to carry on his aggressive intent but he did not get any help from the Cardiff pitch in the opening bout. He had raised his cap to the crowd when they celebrated Johnson getting to 100 runs conceded, and Johnson knew he needed to do much more that if Australia had to comeback in the series.

The next Test, at Lord’s would be even tougher challenge for him, he did not have happy memories the last time he was here, in 2009; his figures for that match read, 38.4-4-210-3! He had to rework and get back to being himself. England’s scars deepen after monumental thrashing by Australia at Lord’s in Ashes 2015

Australia had done the main work with the bat, they put 566 for eight in about five sessions. Australia had England fielding, tired and with just 29 overs to bowl for the visitors, Michael Clarke and Johnson had an easier job on hand. Mitchell Starc got rid of Adam Lyth like nothing happened at all. Johnson was not opening the bowling; he had to wait for eight overs to get the ball. He had Gary Ballance to bowl to. The plans were already discussed; it was time to execute them.

First ball, full at 84mph, on the off stump, Ballance drove it down the ground past mid off for a boundary. The intent was right from both men in picture, Johnson knew he had to keep it full; Ballance had to keep them out.  Next ball was quietly defended to the off side. Third ball, too full on the stumps, Ballance played all over it and was bowled. Johnson roared in joy, his spell could not have started any better.

Joe Root came out to bat, Johnson had worked him over in Australia with short pitch bowling, they were going to do the same now, and first ball was a bouncer at 91 mph, Root ducked under it. Next ball, Root almost chase a wide one from Johnson, that was short too and almost got Johnson his second wicket, but he only had to wait for a ball more, another short ball, this time a bit more high, Root looked to punch and edged it behind to Peter NevillAlastair Cook, England’s biggest hope at Lord’s in 2nd Test vs Australia

Boom, England were four down for 30. Australia had them on the mat, Johnson went for the kill and almost had Ben Stokes first ball but the ball evaded the stumps. England survived Day Two, Johnson after the play joked about England’s aggressive style of play and how they were happy to just work on their plans, they worked, they worked since they knew and were ready to work harder for them.

Alastair Cook and Ben Stokes then revived England with a 145-run stand. Johnson had more reward coming his way but for Peter Nevill who touched the ground when he was attempting to catch Jos Buttler. Johnson was bending his back to get more out of the pitch. James Anderson could not take a wicket at Lord’s, but Johnson was ready to work his way through to earning wickets by adjusting to the conditions on offer. He finished first innings with figures of 20.1-8-53-3. Clarke did not enforce the follow-on despite getting a lead of over 254 runs. He knew his bowlers had done their job and deserved a rest.

Clarke gave his bowlers a good rest of over two sessions, set England a target of 509. One would have expected England to fight harder but Johnson was waiting for them. The second over after Lunch, Starc had gobbled Lyth again. Gary Ballance was back, Johnson was back to replace Starc, exactly after eight overs like in the first innings. This time he had Cook to bowl to, Cook who had scored a brilliant 96, England’s best chance to drawing the Test, his first ball almost rolled through the floor, second ball, came in the air, pitched outside off, Cook was not going to play but Johnson was changing his angles smartly. The third ball was similar, Cook left a short one outside off, the next ball, Johnson bowled another one outside off, asking Cook to cut, and the English skipper went after it for some reason and got caught behind. Steven Smith: 192, 199 and then 215 — the record-making machine

Australia’s joy knew no bounds. Cook was probably tired of doing it all by himself. Australia knew they had this in their palms. Johnson knew, he was back; he was bowling well, landing the ball where he wanted.

Ian Bell came out to bat, Johnson bowled the perfect ball to him, a length ball, coming in with the angle, and Bell was late on his shot but survived. He got an inside edge and the ball ran down to the fine leg fence for a boundary. Bell was happy to come forward to other bowlers but against Johnson, he dared not get out of his crease. The scars were back, Johnson was more than happy to revisit this England side. Johnson was bossing now. He finished the over with a sharp bouncer! One that almost hit Bell but he kept it out.

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He then had Bell playing from his crease, but Adam Voges dropped the catch.  There was no stopping Johnson now, the next over with Root on strike, Johnson bowled a menacing bouncer, Root just about kept it out in time to avoid getting hit. This was the same feeling English batsmen had to counter in Australia. The Mitch was back. England were 64 for five at Tea.

The first ball after Tea, Johnson bowled one outside off to Buttler, he just poked at it, not coming forward, England were six down, and Johnson was pumped up. The first ball to Ali was a short one, Ali ducked under it. Another short ball, Ali almost pulled it through but there was no glove and Nevill had dropped it.

Johnson did not give up, back of a length ball, on off, Ali defended. Johnson came back with another bouncer, this time at the throat of Ali, he just dabbed at it, and short leg pouched the catch. The deck was not  unplayable but Johnson was breathing fire. Broad hit Johnson around for a couple of boundaries and Johnson was left stranded on 299 Test wickets. Australia wrapped up the game by 405 runs, inside four days, the series was levelled now 1-1. Stuart Broad, England’s only positive on a day of agony

England would have had no idea how they botched the game up but the man who was the butt of all jokes after the first Test, had done the hard work, bent his back, earned his wickets to finish with figures of 30.1-11-80-6!

The Johnson, Mitchell Johnson is back and England will have to be careful, very careful of him!

(Nikhil Popat is a cricket lover and a PotterHead. He can be followed on Twitter @CricCrazyNIKS)