John Townsend: Mitchell Johnson's menace is just like Thommo
The Aussie Angle: Crowds lift and games change when bowlers of this ilk are in their pomp
Sunday 08 December 2013
A new generation of English top-order batsman is starting to comprehend what David Lloyd has been talking about for nearly 40 years.
The perky commentator has been on the talking circuit in Australia, regaling audiences with stories about the bad old days of 1974-75, when he faced Lillee and Thomson for a living. The centrepiece of his often hilarious spiel is his eye-watering tale of his flimsy pink plastic protector and how Thomson blasted it into jagged shards one unforgettable and painful day at the Waca Ground.
Protective devices may have improved in the past four decades, but the ordeal of facing a genuinely fast bowler, one capable of regularly nudging 95mph, has changed little. It is still raw and threatening and there are no foxholes in which to seek cover while the artillery barrage is running its course.
A progression of batsman this series may not have suffered quite the acute discomfort experienced by the shaken and stirred Bumble, but they are starting to come close.
Australia have produced plenty of menacing speed merchants over the years, Craig McDermott and Brett Lee especially to the fore, but none of them have evoked the spirit of Thommo as much as his 21st-century successor, Mitchell Johnson.
The sheer pace is a given, but the comparison extends beyond these two bowlers' capacity to break bones and inflict bruises.
Crowds lift and games change when bowlers of the ilk of Thomson and Johnson are in their pomp.
Their sheer physicality is palpable, and they appear able to harness the energy at the ground and convert it into a wave of menace and momentum that washes away batsmen as easily as sand castles on the beach.
There is little doubt that Johnson, for all his anguish in 2009 and three winters ago, is now at the peak of his powers. He was saved for the home campaign by a selection panel confident that he could remake his confidence and technique with intensive work away from the spotlight.
That over-the-horizon planning saw Johnson work with the West Australian bowling coach, Adam Griffith, on his posture, balance and alignment at the bowling crease during long sessions at the Waca while Australia were losing the Ashes in England.
The return of McDermott to the Australian camp as bowling coach has also benefited the left-armer. Johnson established a healthy rapport with the former Test striker while a teenager growing up in Queensland, and he regularly turns to McDermott for feedback and advice.
Their discussions tend not to be about technical matters but, rather, conversations on bowling between members of the rare Australian club comprising pacemen with 200 Test wickets.
McDermott has reiterated one piece of advice – that there is no better time to claim a wicket than when a new batsman has just arrived.
Johnson has obviously listened; three wickets came in three overs in the first innings at The Gabba, with two scalps in three balls in the second.
He was on a hat-trick twice yesterday too, as five batsmen were evicted within the space of three barnstorming overs.
His emotions overflowed, partly because of his relief at stringing two outstanding matches together and partly because he finally had an answer to the Barmy Army's taunts.
"To be able to back up a performance like Brisbane is a really nice feeling," he said. "There has been talk that I can blow a team away one game and then not turn up the next."
Returns of four, five and then seven wickets speak of a bowler who not only turned up but is clearly on the rise.
Sixteen wickets in three digs overshadows the next-best efforts – those of Ryan Harris and Nathan Lyon, who have five apiece – though he is only halfway to the feat of Harbhajan Singh against Australia in 2001, when the combative off-spinner claimed 32 scalps in three Tests.
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