James Lawton: Johnson suffers lonely torment trying to replace departed legends

The hardening word here is that the taker of 166 Test wickets will not make it to the start against England on Friday. Psychologically, he looks to be in pieces

How do you travel across a sizeable chunk of Australia sitting next to an extremely beautiful girl who also happens to be a former karate champion and yet still feel utterly alone?

You become Mitchell Johnson, who not so long ago was considered the Baggy Green's nearest thing to a new Glenn McGrath or Brett Lee, leaving a first Ashes Test in Brisbane which as far as you are concerned could not have been any more cruel had it been scripted by the Marquis de Sade.

Johnson had his girlfriend, with him on the plane to Adelaide but if this might have been cause for celebration in more normal circumstances now it seemed only to accentuate his role as a cricketer suddenly on his own.

His captain, Ricky Ponting, sat two rows back and mostly had a demeanour of thunder. The vice-captain, Michael Clarke, sat next to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin and did not have a lot to say.

If anyone had made the kind of joke common among travelling professional sportsmen you imagined it would have carried all the lightness of a high-calibre rifle shot.

Mitchell and Jessica have been described as Australia's dream couple, a kind of Antipodean "Becks and Posh" in training, but if he earns millions of dollars a year and might double as a matinee idol with his new moustache – one being grown for charity reasons, his people are quick to say – and she has a wardrobe that has been described as a paparazzi's fantasy, this was surely a day to survive rather than enjoy.

The hardening word here is that Johnson, the taker of 166 Test wickets, will not make it to the start against England on Friday morning. Psychologically, he looks to be in pieces and it can hardly be a surprise in the wake of his experiences at The Gabba.

Australia's selectors responded to the disaster in the most direct way by calling in rival seam bowlers Doug Bollinger and Ryan Harris, and yesterday the head coach Tim Nielsen, a London-born wicketkeeper-batsman who played more than a hundred times for South Australia, made it clear he was preparing what could well be the mother of all bowling inquests. Inevitably, Johnson is under a scrutiny that he may not survive – at least not for the second Test.

He had at The Gabba not so much a bad match as a Greek tragedy. Before the action, he said: "I feel very good after scoring a hundred and taking five wickets in my last state game and I've come here feeling more confident than maybe at any other time in my career. I've put aside a lot of bowling theory and decided just to bowl fast."

Unfortunately, he forgot to feed in a modicum of fire and accuracy; or rather, the suspicion has to be that the sheer pressure of expectation disabled him.

Whatever the cause, the mere listing of the details of his ordeal constitutes an act of cruelty. For the first time in a first-class match, Johnson did not take a wicket, was hit for 170 runs, made a duck and then dropped England's captain, Andrew Strauss, as he was changing up a gear on his way to a 19th Test century.

Nielsen, perhaps understandably, tried to skirt Johnson's cricket version of a high-speed car crash, suggesting that he was just one of the guilty men after his team-mate Peter Siddle had produced a brilliant hat-trick breakthrough on the first day.

It was, however, a heavy chore for him kicking aside the Johnson debris and under persistent questioning he conceded: "Mitchell didn't have his best game but I don't think he was on his own there.

"He did not bowl as well as he would like, so it is our job to get him back up and going. At times there have been players who haven't performed in one Test and then upped the ante in the next. Throughout his career he's had his ups and downs and he understands that this is one of the downs. We have to address this and find a way of taking 20 wickets.

"I very much believe Mitchell is one of those guys who can bounce back from one game to the next. We have to make sure Mitchell is relaxed. He's thinking well and thinking clearly about the things that have worked for him in the past.

"He is good at this game and we have to make sure he is in as good a place as he can be, so we can start well on Friday morning. He has the scoreboard on his mind, it is the first thing a player thinks of when he's having a bad time, and we have to do something about that."

As England settled in across the street, their coach Andy Flower was talking about something of a bad time of his own. Flower's problem was a melanoma on his cheek, something that demanded swift surgery in a Brisbane hospital.

Such a perspective might, who knows, have been some value to the fast bowler who got on a plane yesterday with everything a man might want, except for the rather vital ability to feel good about himself.

Jessica gave him a cuddle and he responded with a smile that was somewhat wan. Of course there is only one solution.

It is for him to pick up a cricket ball and bowl it as quickly and as uncomplicatedly as he did when making his name.

This may just happen here some time over the next few days. If it does, maybe Nielsen and the Australian selectors will decide that a little faith at a critical is the best answer. It may just save the man who, despite at least one impressive discouragement, couldn't shake that feeling of being alone.

It is still perhaps the most viable option for the coach who always knew it was going to be hard in the wake of such bowling giants as Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. He said coming into this series: "You can't replace superstars. You just have to try to do it in bits and pieces." That, certainly, and also making Mitchell Johnson feel whole again.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?