Cardiff: Mitchell Johnson was positively a beast in the Ashes Down Under in 2013-14. A sledgehammer with the red cherry, brutalizing the English batsmen with searing pace and short-pitched deliveries, Johnson took 37 wickets and had fans far and wide going gaga about the resurgence of hostile quick bowling the likes of Jeff Thomson and Andy Roberts are celebrated for to this day.
Australia pacer Mitchell Johnson doffs his cap after receiving a standing ovation from England fans for his worst-ever bowling figures. Pic/Getty Images
However, on the Cardiff pitch that John Arlott would certainly have called “positively posthumous”, Johnson’s strengths of pace and uncomfortable bounce were negated and he looked a shadow of the bowler who terrorised batsmen with bodily harm. In Australia, Johnson was most effective against the tailenders, blowing the away repeatedly and snuffing out any chances of England mounting any rearguard after the top order was nipped out. Of the 37 batsmen he removed, 16 of them were batsmen playing at 8, 9, 10 and 11.
When Day Two began, Australia would have had hopes of wrapping up the tail and putting their feet up to watch their batsmen go to work on this flat wicket. However, resuming the day on 343-7, England’s tail wagged and wagged well, scoring at will and giving resolute company to Moeen Ali, who took his chances on his way to stroke-filled 77. The last three wickets put together 87 frustrating runs as memories of last Ashes’ debacle receded from the collective English memory.
During the 2009 Ashes, the Barmy Army relentlessly mocked Johnson with sing-songs of “He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right, this Mitchell Johnson, his bowling is sh**e”. That would leave severe mental scars and knock Johnson off his for a long time, till he re-emerged under the guidance of Dennis Lillee in 2013.
The English fans yesterday at Cardiff were on Johnson’s case as he toiled his way through 25 fruitless overs, giving away 111 runs, his worst bowling figures in a Test innings, worse than the none-for-104 he collected in Brisbane during the 2010-11 Ashes.
He became the first Australian bowler since Tim May in 1993 to finish with no wickets and more than 100 runs conceded in a Test innings in England.
Johnson tried to embrace the crowd’s ribbing when he walked back to his fielding position at deep fine leg, and even doffing his hat to them when they mock-cheered him for conceding a century of runs. But he has always been a confidence player.
Whenever he bats well, his bowling seems to find an extra gear and vice versa. And so, it did seem that as the helpless pitch blunted his efforts and Moeen carting him for boundaries, his fielding seemed to suffer.
Twice he wrong footed himself going for catches with the balls landing just out of reach. He turned himself around on the second attempt so much that Michael Holding on air, almost sang out, “He is going left, going right...”
Australia would be hoping their pacers, and especially their spearhead Johnson would be able to force their way through the English tail in the second innings, if the chance were to arise.
Dorothy told her dog Toto in The Wizard of Oz, “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” After the second day of this Ashes, Johnson must be feeling something quite similar.