The Ashes: Australia should stick by Mitchell Johnson
He was poor, it was a draw, and now he’s dropped. Mitchell Johnson has paid for the stalemate in the first Test at Brisbane, as the Australian selectors react to England’s miraculous 517-1 in the second innings there.
Johnson has shown mental and technical fragility whenever thrown into the cauldron of Ashes cricket and those around him have decided he is not in the right state to compete.
The Australian team coach Tim Nielsen said: “We need to try and get Mitchell’s game and mind into a place that’s going to allow him to compete best at international level,” while Johnson himself admitted: “I need to get my head straight,” a clear indication of his having been affected by the pressure of this most high profile of series.
But he has been and remains a fine bowler, and a match-winning cricketer. One who in the 2009 Ashes, although often in a struggle to locate the cut strip, still took 20 wickets at 32.55.
He has within him a little more pace than the other Australian seamers and has a knack -one albeit, which deserted him and his colleagues in Brisbane -of picking up wickets. Even when he wasn’t on song in England, he contributed. When he is going well with bat and ball he is the most dangerous cricketer on either of these sides.
So Australia should not jettison him for too long. After all, England only managed to take one wicket for 107 at the end of the game. Although England looked threatening on the third morning without reward, neither side found it easy to take wickets in the second half of the Brisbane Test. Yet there has been no panic from England. The first Test should not trigger the dismantling of either bowling attack.
The challenge for Johnson is mostly in his mind -his action is naturally slingy and his game was never based on complex technique -but if Australia can get him even part of the way back to full competetive mental health, they should pick him again. With Shane Watson an excellent fourth seam option thay can afford a more hit-and-miss bowler in their line-up, particularly one whose batting at number eight so strengthens the look of their tail.
The insertion of Bollinger is the right call -he was their star bowler last year, he is a confident performer and crucially -has not been seen by England before. A new threat is a good thing, and but for a side complaint, ‘Doug the Rug’ would probably have played in Brisbane. But perhaps he could better take the place of Ben Hilfenhaus? Hilfenhaus is a fine bowler who keeps it tight, swings the ball and makes the batsman play.
But Australia have Shane Watson to perform this role, while Bollinger can happily take the new ball with Siddle. A slightly improved Johnson would provide a little bit extra to a reasonably deep – but not all that penetrative – attack.
Imagine the scenario: it’s 1-1 in the series going into the final Test at Sydney. Australia have struggled to take wickets with their attack, which by now features Ryan Harris for Hilfenhaus – he has tried hard and done OK without setting the world alight. To avoid conceding the Ashes the Aussies need 20 wickets. They would sense that Johnson might just be able to turn something up – the odd wicket from nowhere between the wides and the long-hops.
He is mentally very flimsy, entirely un-Australian, and seems to wilt against England. But in a team of workaday cricketers, Johnson provides the potential for a wicket-taking spark.
If he makes no return in this series, it would be hard to ever bring him back, and this Australian team does not have an embarrassment of riches at its disposal. They cannot do without him for long.