Less than three weeks ago, most of the Australian public didn’t want Mitchell Johnson in the Test team.
If you had put his name up with ‘the Demon’ Fred Spofforth or Dennis Lillee, people would have laughed at you.
The Barmy Army treated him as a joke.
The English team thought he was a weak character. He might have bowled some fast spells during the recent one-day series in England, but they regarded that as a flash in the pan. Their planning was all around Harris, Siddle and Lyon.
Now Mitch ‘The Missile’ is going to win the Ashes back for Australia. As far as I am concerned, he is man of the series already.
In fact, Johnson is worthy of joining moustachioed marauders Spofforth and Lillee in the pantheon of Australian fast bowlers who have tormented the Old Enemy. All three have taken taken seven wicket hauls in Ashes Tests.
Johnson has taken 222 Test wickets and he will surpass 300 in the blink of an eye. In terms of Australian fast bowlers, that puts him up with Glenn McGrath, Lillee and Brett Lee. That is serious company and worthy of some respect.
Remember, this is virtually the same team that has beaten Australia in the last three Ashes series. It is Johnson who has made the difference.
The rest of the Australians are walking taller because of the silky left-armer. If someone bowls seriously fast, you’ve got 10 cocky blokes around them because they have seen that the opposition is a bit timid and is not standing up for itself. It is sport’s version of bullying, and Johnson is the leader of the gang.
Where has it come from?
When Johnson was a teenager, Lillee identified him as a once-in-a-generation fast bowler. For one reason and another, it has taken a long time to turn out that way. In 2009, when the Barmy Army made fun of him, Johnson was crushed as a person.
Lillee, Terry Alderman and Craig McDermott have all no doubt played a role in his rejuvenation. But I think the main difference has been Johnson taking it upon himself to change as a person.
Despite taking 200 wickets, he did not come across as a strong personality. He now looks a more settled, mature, forceful and confident personality.
It has all come together on the field. His missiles, which so often used to fly wide of the stumps or harmlessly overhead, are now striking targets, whether that is in the form of wickets or bodies.
It is hard to understand how he can be bowling so accurately now. And where he gets that pace from I’ve got no idea. He is a beautiful athlete, but there is something about his physiology, something about his shoulder, that enables him to generate that extreme pace. I saw it in the West Indian quick bowler Courtney Walsh, who also could get pace from nowhere.
When you are bowling over 150 km per hour, the fear factor comes in and a slight chink in your technique gets found out.
For example, Alastair Cook’s technique has been found wanting against Johnson, whereas Ian Bell’s technique – as we suspected – has been spot on. It’s only in the furnace of express pace that these things can really be put to the test.
With Cook all at sea against Johnson, England is a ship without a rudder. The England dressing room is shattered.
As an old bowler, I don’t like batsmen. Watching Johnson with his smooth, athletic approach is a particular delight. He is poetry in motion.
All I want to see now is a torrid spell to Kevin Pietersen in Perth.