Mitchell Johnson’s bouncer to Virat Kohli: Has Cricket changed?

The short ball, as impressive as it was, had caused Johnson more distress than it had Kohli.

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Virat Kohli © Getty Images
Some concerned Australian players checked on Virat Kohli (right) after he was hit on the helmet by a Mitchell Johnson bouncer © Getty Images

On Day Three of the first Test between India and Australia, Virat Kohli was welcomed to the crease by a bouncer from Mitchell Johnson off the first ball he faced. It was sharp and quick, and pinged Kohli on his helmet. What followed showed just how much the game has changed in the last couple of weeks. Shiamak Unwalla has more.

It was a good day for batting. The rain and clouds hadn’t done much to change that. The leather hunt the Indian bowlers were subjected to seemed a little less severe now that the likes of Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, and Peter Siddle were being meted out the same treatment.

Shikhar Dhawan was batting well before being bowled through the gate. That brought Cheteshwar Pujara in to join Murali Vijay, and the pair added an attractive 81 runs. Then Vijay was dismissed by Johnson, who was clearly elated; he tapped his chest and looked to the skies in celebration. In walked Virat Kohli, perhaps the batsman Australia would be most worried about.

Johnson — fiery, fierce, intimidating — ran in and sent down a short ball that rose sharply and struck Kohli bang in the middle of the helmet. Kohli was stunned, and shook his head to jolt himself out of it. But almost the entire Australian team was by his side in a flash, Johnson among the first. He put his hand on Kohli’s shoulder, and made sure he was alright. Michael Clarke, David Warner, and Brad Haddin hung around and enquired after Kohli as well. Even the umpires went up to check on him.

Johnson wore a look that suggested he did not want to be a fast bowler. The short ball, as impressive as it was, had caused him more distress than it had Kohli. Clarke had to go up to his ace bowler and calm him down, and tell him it was okay to bowl quick and short. Play resumed within a moment, and Kohli even played a beautiful punch down the ground to get off the mark.

But the moment lingered on. Lunch was called after the next over, which was a good thing because it seemed like Australia could use the break. Not because the Indians had scored 119 in a session, but because a short ball had knocked a batsman’s helmet.

Phillip Hughes is still in everyone’s memory. Johnson, Clarke, Haddin, and Warner were among the cricketers to shed tears at his funeral. After over two days of a Test match, a single moment was enough to cause a few minutes hold-up.

A month ago, even three weeks ago, Johnson might have given the batsman a stare and got back to his mark keen to dish out another short ball. Perhaps none of the Australian fielders would have bothered to go up to the batsman, and rightly so. But what happened to Phillip Hughes changed everything. The wound is still far too fresh for the short ball to prosper. Johnson may yet bowl a few more bouncers, but his conscience might not allow him to bowl quite so short, quite so quick, or quite so aggressively.

Time will heal the wounds, but for now, the short ball might just take a back seat.

(Shiamak Unwalla, a reporter with CricketCountry, is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek and cricket fanatic. You can follow him on Twitter @ShiamakUnwalla)

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