Magic Johnson puts Australia's Ashes campaign back on track
Australians come back roaring at Lord's after Cardiff loss thanks to Mitchell Johnson
London: Thirty seven overs. Thirty seven overs of hostile fast bowling and efficient spin that lasted less than 170 minutes is all it took for Australia to roll England over in the second innings and level the series 1-1 at Lord's. The euphoria for England and the misery for Australia, from Cardiff, seem so distant that it is already well forgotten.
Mitchell Johnson. Pic/AFP
One may think it was cynical of England to welcome Australia to the Home of Cricket with a flat wicket that did not provide much sideways movement or bounce. But the Australian quicks with their additional pace and variety, overcame the sluggish, unhelpful surface and thrashed England to the tune of 405 runs. Facing an unlikely fourth innings target of 509 runs, England batsmen were ruthlessly bundled out to the 9th largest margin of defeat (by runs) in Tests.
The chief architect for Australia that showed the way to overcome the conditions was the last Ashes hero Mitchell Johnson. In the waning moments of Day Two, he put forth the template to beat England on this unhelpful wicket. With speeds regularly touching 90 mph, and a bit of swing, he troubled all the English batters. He first despatch the out-of-form Gary Ballance with a fuller length and then the in-form Joe Root with short-pitch deliveries.
In the 2013-14 Ashes, Mitchell Johnson was everywhere. Making runs, taking wickets, pulling off acrobatic catches and knocking down stumps with accurate throws. It was impossible to feel the tide in the series has turned Australia's way as once again,
England's hopes rested heavily on their skipper Alastair Cook, as he is one batsman who could bat for days, denying himself of runs while solely concentrating on survival. Australia needed to dislodge him if they were to barge through the rest of the line up. Enter Johnson.
Shortly after lunch on Day Four, Clarke tossed the ball to his ace in the hole, Johnson, and he delivered with his fourth delivery at the English skipper. After the first three balls of the over delivered from slightly wide of the crease that Cook was happy to see pass through to the wicket keeper, Johnson slung one from closer to the stumps and suckered Cook in to playing an ill-advised square cut. The result, an easy edge to debutant Peter Nevill.
The next two deliveries with which Johnson welcomed Ian Bell -on whose bat England won the Ashes in 2013 - to the wicket were of the highest quality. Bell was caught in no man's land as he was confounded by a fuller delivery that swung in late and took the inside edge and excruciatingly missed the stumps. Bell, as any other batsman would have, expected the next delivery to be a fuller one as well but Johnson surprised him with a vicious bouncer. Bell did well to ride it and survive for the moment. To produce such a sharp bouncer on a flat wicket as this, would take a lot out of the bowler, but Johnson was just happy to continue on bowling.
Those two deliveries encapsulated the demon that Johnson has become. Sending down short deliveries that put the fear of the Lord in batsmen and just as easily turning their feet in to concrete with full swingers.
Even as Test series drag on for days and weeks, there are moments and images that stick in everyone's minds. Talismanic match winning bowlers produce moments of magic on the field with direct hits for run outs as well. Every cricket fan will remember the iconic image of Andrew Flintoff striking the Jesus pose after running Ricky Ponting out on the fifth day of the final Test of the 2009 Ashes at Oval, to propel England to a series victory. As the Aussie freight train was running over England down under in 2013-14, Johnson scored a direct hit to catch Joe Root out at the MCG.
Here at Lord's, Johnson produced one such moment when what would have been an easy single turned out to be disaster for England's new sensation Ben Stokes. The javelin throw of Johnson from mid-on beat Stokes even as his foot was just inch away from safe landing.
Two overs later, Johnson returned to his bowling mark to uproot any last semblance of English resistance. First ball after Tea, Jos Buttler tamely poked at an away swinging delivery and Moeen Ali was reminded of his technical shortcomings against rising deliveries, as Johnson tangled him up with a ball that was breathing fire.
When Australia lost to New Zealand in Auckland during the recent World Cup, Clarke said his team used that as a wake up call. They went on to win the world cup. The Cardiff loss woke the sleeping Aussie giant up. As we have seen before, once the Johnson-powered Aussie juggernaut gets rolling, it is very hard to stop it. And England bore the brunt of it in the course of confidence-shattering thirty seven overs.