Under fire Mitchell Johnson focus of Australian media

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The Independent Online

Out-of-form fast bowler Mitchell Johnson has become the lightning rod for Australian anger at the cherished national team's poor performance in the first Ashes cricket Test against England, polarizing opinion on his second Test selection chances.

Major newspapers have opened online polls asking readers whether Johnson should keep his place for the second test which starts at the Adelaide Oval on Friday. After almost 2,500 votes, 85 percent of respondents believed the tall left-armer should be dropped.

Opinion was even divided along family lines as brothers Ian and Greg Chappell — both former captains of the Australian cricket team — found themselves on opposite sides of the argument.

National selector Greg Chappell told reporters he wasn't worried about Johnson's current form — he ended the first test with figures of 0-170 — though he refused to guarantee the paceman's re-selection.

Australia has already moved to replace Johnson if necessary by including fast bowlers Ryan Harris and Doug Bollinger in its 13-man second test squad.

"Worried is not a word I would use," Greg Chappell said. "We obviously recognize he's not in the peak of form at the moment so we're keen to see him back to that as soon as possible.

"Players go through ups and downs in various stages of their careers. He's still one of our key bowlers."

Television cricket analyst Ian Chappell was quoted by Australian newspapers as saying Johnson appeared by the end of the first test to have lost all confidence.

"So I'm not sure you can take him into Adelaide. That's one change they've got to make," he said.

Australia coach Tim Nielsen has also been reluctant to lay blame for his team's moderate performance in Brisbane at Johnson's feet, or to discount the possibility of his selection in Adelaide.

"At different times there have been a lot of players who haven't performed in one test match and then have come out and upped the ante," he said. "There were times when we let it get away (in Brisbane), not as an individual but as a bowling group, and when that happens, one guy usually gets exposed; Mitch is the one we're talking about."

Nielsen said the coaches were working with the whole bowling group to prepare everybody for another test match.

"We've got to make sure Mitch is relaxed and thinking clearly about what works for him," he said.

Former South African coach Mickey Arthur, who coaches Johnson's Western Australian state side, called for the fast bowler to be spared.

"There's no doubt he should stay in the side," Arthur said. "Mitchell Johnson is in the top five quicks in the world.

"I come from a South African dressing room who rate Mitchell Johnson extremely highly. Mitchell Johnson has got that ability to change a test match in a session. He's that type of player.

"To leave him out would certainly be premature, in my opinion, because he's the one potential match-winner Australia have. For him to get that criticism right now is pretty harsh."

Stuart Clark, the spearhead of Australia's attack in its 2006 Ashes series against England, also offered Johnson support.

"I am not sure leaving Mitch out of the Adelaide test is the best option at present, but I can guarantee you that a selector coming out and stating that he is on borrowed time will not help," Clark wrote in a column in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Johnson has failed to take a wicket in four of his past five test innings and has taken just three wickets in those matches at a cost of 122.3.

Clark said Johnson had obviously lost confidence and "only wickets will banish the demons from within."