'We needed to get right in their faces a bit more – it definitely works for us'

Bowler reveals Australia's strategy to confront England with verbal barrage to knock the swagger out of tourists' step
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The Independent Online

The Ashes sprang ferociously to life yesterday.

Not only were Australia dragged back into the contest by a searing piece of pace bowling from Mitchell Johnson, but the sledging and the bouncing were ramped up to boiling point. Oh what fun it all was.

Johnson, bless him, was at the centre of it all. He bowled with fury, skill and swing, and, if you can imagine those bombs that go round corners, that was Johnson yesterday as he took 6 for 34, including a burst of four for seven in 27 balls, in which time England went from 78 for 0 to 98 for 5, enough to convert swagger into stagger.

But on his day of redemption after the agony of Brisbane three weeks ago which led to his being dropped, Johnson was also at the centre of everything else. He gesticulated at fallen batsmen, let them have regular verbal volleys and was in their faces like a Saturday-night bouncer.

It was perhaps not Test cricket as the purists would like it, but it was Ashes cricket as it was meant to be played. Australia also peppered England with short balls on a fast Waca surface which appeared to be getting faster. Johnson twice roughed up batsmen with rapid bumpers, and then dismissed them with something fuller and swinging viciously late. It was irresistible stuff.

As potent as this was, it was patently clear that Australia were anxious to have a war of words. They were presumably tiring of England making too much of the running in this regard as in everything else hitherto.

Johnson's most prized scalp of his six was perhaps that of Kevin Pietersen, with whom he had had a verbal skirmish the day before and and whom he dismissed with a rapid, accurate, late inswinger. At some point in proceedings the day before, Pietersen had apparently asked for his phone number.

"I didn't give him my number," said Johnson. "I did say something to him but I can't really give that information out. I was pretty happy to get his wicket. I didn't think he was being funny, I think he was being a bit of a smart arse." Johnson added for good measure that of the England sledgers he preferred Graeme Swann "because he is a bit more clever".

It was part of a deliberate strategy by Australia who were patently more animated than they had been in either of the first two Test matches. Perhaps they were encouraged by Johnson's classical bowling or perhaps his classical bowling was helped by the aggression. "When we've got that bit of fire we do play very well I think," he said. "I just tried to keep my emotions in check and I think I did. What we've tried to do here is get very involved in the match but not overstep the line. I spoke to Brad Haddin about it and Peter Siddle as well, who is obviously a very fiery character. I think if we can get right up in their faces a little bit more – you leave certain blokes out – but I think it definitely works for us."

England fought fire with fire. When Matt Prior was out, bowled off the body by a Siddle bouncer – he made a gesture at the Australians which might have been interpreted as offering to duff them up.

But Johnson's bowling was compelling. On the first evening he had shown evidence of intent and it came to early fruition yesterday. His bouncer was accurate and hostile and what followed, the swinging ball of full length, was hard to repel.

"I didn't really try and get it to swing," he said. "The thing that really worked in my favour was that breeze. I guess one of the things I have been working on with Troy Cooley, our bowling coach, was getting my body forward instead of dropping off to square leg. I think that definitely helped me. I got my arm lower and my wrist behind the ball a bit better.

"I didn't really get too down on being dropped. Obviously, I was disappointed at the time but I knew I had to work on a few things and that what's I did. The thing was to get my lower body strength back to where it was. They were the two things – strength and getting my body going forward. I know when the ball swings like it did today it definitely puts doubt in the mind of the batsman. It helps me to get more wickets." Six yesterday and if he bowls and talks like it again there will be plenty more to come in this series.

Action Man: How Johnson has changed his approach

In the first Test in Brisbane when Johnson's bowling was carted around the park and he failed to take a wicket he was falling away in his delivery stride. His right shoulder is low as he delivers, so he loses accuracy. After working with Troy Cooley, ahead of the Perth Test, his action has altered so that his right shoulder is higher and his body more forward when he bowls. He is not falling away as much, his left arm is lower and his wrist is more behind the ball. It seems to be working.