The 2010-2011 Ashes series received a much needed injection today. For the Aussies, it was a life saving injection. For cricket and the series, Australia’s fight back is a good thing. And who should provide the injection than the much maligned Mitchell Johnson. What an enigma he is. Jekyll and Hyde. Hot and cold. On air, Roebuck remarked that with Johnson, the gap between his best and his worst is a very long way, with nothing much in between. Indeed.
Australia followed a lack lustre day one with more of the same at the start of day two. An edge passed between keeper and first slip and nobody laid a hand on the ball. In fact, nobody moved. England progressed to 0/78 with relative ease. And then Johnson struck. He routed England with a spell of 4/7 in five overs. The incredible thing was the manner of dismissal – three lbws – beautiful, late in-swingers to the right handers.
It was South Africa (Durban) all over again. How long we have waited for a repeat performance. The second lbw today, Pietersen for a duck, was referred – surely Johnson could not have swung it that much. But he did. The third, Collingwood for 2, was not even initially given. It tricked the umpire – surely it could have swung that much. But it did.
Firstly, I will say that I was wrong – the selectors were obviously right to select Johnson for this Test. Not only did he finish the innings with 6-38, we should not forget that he was the top scorer of the match at the half point. Secondly, I might sound like an Aussie crowing with a bit of Australian success. And I won’t lie – they is part of it. But cricket needs champion bowlers and Johnson today was a world beater. Last night, Morkel and Steyn cut down the Indians. Cricket needs more of it as the batsmen, in general, have it too easy.
Johnson’s spell before lunch was electrifying. It doesn’t matter where your allegiances lie, if you didn’t find that exciting, check if you have a pulse. It was series changing. One man lifted a whole team. Even Aggers, who admits he has never seen Johnson bowl like that, was excited by Johnson’s efforts.
Australia still has a multitude of worries, Make no mistake. But they have an 81 first innings lead and are building on that worryingly for England. One of Australia’s worries is Johnson himself. He needs to perform like today for extended periods. Perhaps he will now enter a purple patch. In South Africa he was a world beater with both and ball. And that is how it will always be with him – he is a confidence player. The key will be his minders. They obviously did something right between Brisbane and Perth – perhaps you could argue it was overdue.
However Johnson performs, he will not be able to do it alone. Most wickets will not offer the same assistance as Perth. In that area, Australia has a lot of work ahead of them. But the work immediately at hand is with the bat. What will the third day of this fast-moving, excellent Test match hold?