Ashes 2013-14: The Aussie Angle - Mitchell Johnson provides one of the few positives
Thursday 21 November 2013
The late coming of Mitchell Johnson – with the bat – has papered over the thick cracks that still race in all directions through the Australian top order.
Chris Rogers may have received a brute of a lifter from Stuart Broad at the Gabba but David Warner, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke, Steve Smith and George Bailey were each culpable in their own demise with strokes that were either misconceived or prompted by the build-up of England pressure.
Yet Johnson's muscular contribution with bat in hand, alongside the equally valuable effort of a 36-year-old Brad Haddin who played with the freedom of a man half his age, augers well for Australia's bowling prospects.
When Johnson bats well, he invariably has a potent impact with the ball.
He is an unusual all-rounder for whom the absence of success in one discipline does not inspire it in the other; rather, he feeds of the energy of success in either field.
"In the past when I haven't batted well I might have been a bit tense and thought I had to go out and blast teams away but that has all changed," he revealed after his 60 helped Australia to a competitive first day 8-273.
"I have been saying for the past 12 months that my confidence and belief is back in my cricket.
"Batting well definitely helps, especially this morning when I rocked up and the nerves started kicking in with the big crowd and the national anthem.
"It was quite nerve-wracking this morning, especially before the toss, but once we batted I got the nerves out of the system.
"Hopefully it will turn into a good bowling performance."
He appears to be nothing like the wan individual of 2009 who was so badly affected by Barmy Army sledging or the confused and angry man of 2010-11 who could not comprehend whether he was the team's best and most important bowler or an occasional contributor who only played when there was a brief alignment between the selectors' thoughts and adverse health and well-being reports on the other candidates.
Johnson's 60 in the first Test was the ninth time in the left-armer's career that he had reached a half-century.
The synergy of success with bat and ball is apparent from his record of only once failing to pair a score of 50 or more with a match haul of at least four wickets.
And in a career marked by Himalayan peaks and troughs, there could not be a clearer indication that Johnson's best form comes from confidence and clarity of mind than from any particular technical issue.
Johnson was a match-winner in the Ashes Test at the WACA three years ago when he demolished England with returns of 6-38 and 3-44.
But recall that his brittle self-belief was strengthened by a blazing 62 in Australia's first innings.
Then there was his maiden century, an undefeated 123 against South Africa in a losing cause at Newlands but one inspired by his four wicket haul the previous day.
Two weeks earlier he had run out of partners as he neared three figures at The Wanderers but barely needed any support over the next few days as he scythed through the Proteas in both innings.
The most brutal example of Johnson's equilibrium being best served by bat and ball operating in tandem came at the MCG last year.
Unbeaten on 92 when the last man fell in Australia's first innings, he broke stumps and several Sri Lankan bones during a ferocious display that set up the rout.
There are signs that the same Johnson is back this summer.
He is content in his life, with the presence of his first born providing a focus in his family beyond cricket and its regular disappointments, while he is as strong and fit as he has ever been.
In an Australian team where Johnson is by no means the only player nervous when the top order walk out to the middle, his brief success with the blade has provided not only hope for the attack but valuable ballast in the batting order.
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