Before the series, who could have thought that the main focus before the third Test would be whether or not Mitchell Johnson should be dropped? Not me. Let me refresh you memories. In the most recent Test series against South Africa, in South Africa, he scored 255 runs at 85 and took 16 wickets at 25. But don’t stop at being impressed by the numbers – the way in which those numbers were achieved was something to behold. You could be excused for thinking that a superstar had arrived. The hitting was something to be seen to be believed and the bowling was hostile. I hope I am not exaggerating when I describe it as in swingers, away cutters, severe bounce, broken bones and blood on the pitch.
One thing is sure and that is that series seems a long time ago. Another thing is sure and that is that all the talk cannot be helping Johnson. I believe that he is a confidence player and I don’t know how strong his mind is. I don’t think his mother is helping, either.
Australia is one Test down and the bowlers have struggled. There is no doubt in my mind that Stuart Clark needs to be in that team. The question is, who should make way? That is a hard question, but why? If you were to look at the four bowlers used in the first two Tests and were asked to elect the worst, it would be no contest – Mitchell Johnson. The trouble is, word is that Johnson has earned a level of status where you don’t get dropped after two Tests.
The only other avenue I see is that it is rain, rain, rain at Edgbaston and Hauritz may be dropped not on form, but because the conditions will in no way suit spinners. Back to Mitch.
I think it is worth looking past all of the hype about Johnson and looking at what he has really achieved and where he is at. At present, Johnson is bowling rubbish and has been for the entire tour. Don’t listen to Tim Nielsen – Johnson has not had just “one bad Test”. Aside from the occasional flash, his whole tour has been bad and it is getting worse, not better. The team has a bowling coach (Troy Cooley). If there was an easy fix, it would have been applied by now. Johnson may well flick a switch and suddenly be “back”. The trouble is that nobody can predict when. Maybe the Ashes will already be lost. I believe that one of the biggest mistakes made by the Australians in 2005 was not making changes quickly enough. Perhaps it may not have made a difference but Gillespie should have been dropped earlier and it is amazing that the top six remained unchanged for the entire series, with Hussey waiting in the wings.
Back to Johnson. I don’t think that Mitchell Johnson’s credentials should be over estimated. His bowling average is now 29.05. That does not rank him with the elite. Nielsen stated that Johnson has showed steady improvement over the past 18 months. I agree with that. For Johnson’s first 13 Tests (to the end of a difficult tour of India), his bowling average hovered between 33 and 35. Over the previous summer, he got it as low as 27. I was not a Johnson fan at the beginning of his career and I have always had some reservations. Johnson has taken 102 Test wickets and I’d be confident that more than half his wickets were taken with bad balls. Balls three feet outside off stump sliced to slips and gully, balls three feet outside of off stump chopped into the stumps, nothing balls glanced down the leg side. Johnson has always seemed to have a knack of taking wickets even when is bowling looked unimpressive. And I admit that if bowler takes wickets consistently, no matter how he does it, he is worth sticking with.
However, we should bare in mind that Johnson is not a superstar. He came to the fore when the Australian cupboard was bare. I applaud him for that and admit that I was excited at the player we saw emerge last summer. His demise is gutting and let’s hope it is not permanent. I saw a couple of swallows this morning (truly). One or even two swallows do not make a summer just as one or two sensational series do not make you a superstar.
Johnson should not be seen as indispensable. Anybody who has watched him bowl recently would know that he is in big trouble. He took one wicket in the recent match against a second string, second division County team while going for six runs an over. Ronald McDonald took 4-15 in the second innings. (Don’t get me started on what that idiot Nielson said about personally favouring McDonald.) The fact is that the Australians arrived with a great deal of their hopes pinned on Johnson. However, to be successful at anything (business, love, war, cricket… ) you need to recognise change and respond quickly and decisively. We do courses on that at work and read “Who Moved My Cheese?” (Google it). I wonder if Merv Hughes or Andrew Hilditch have read “Who Moved My Cheese?”.
I won’t start again on Watson. Unless he is selected. One problem at a time.