Sport Cricket Victory as Johnson puts South Africa on its knees
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Victory as Johnson puts South Africa on its knees

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A career-best performance from Mitchell Johnson fired Australia to a 281-run victory over South Africa in the opening clash of the three-Test series.

South Africa were rolled for 200 as Johnson drew blood, rattled skulls and snatched five wickets on Saturday, his match figures of 12-127 breaking all manner of records. 

It was the 32-year-old’s best Test match figures, the greatest Test match figures at Centurion, and the best effort by an Australian against South Africa since Clarrie Grimmett captured 13 wickets in 1936.

The left-armer was at his brutal best as the Proteas slumped to their largest Test loss against Australia, discounting results by a margin of an innings, since a 530-run defeat at the MCG over 100 years ago.

Johnson, continuing the frightening form that netted figures of 7-68 in the first innings, was simply irrepressible – and more often than not unplayable.

“There’s no doubt he was the difference in this game. He bowled superb spells,” dejected Proteas captain Graeme Smith said.

“We were outplayed from the word go. It hasn’t happened in a very long time.”

It started with Johnson’s first over after Michael Clarke declared 3.2 overs into day four at 4-290, setting the hosts a target of 482 and an impossible challenge of lasting six sessions on a bouncy wicket.

Johnson dismissed openers Alviro Petersen and Smith in his fiery opening spell.

As was the case in the first innings he needed just two balls at Smith to end his knock, the veteran having plenty of time in the pavilion to ponder his decision to send Australia in.

“Fortunately it was a nice toss to lose,” Clarke said.

In the first dig a fearsome bouncer directed at Smith’s head brought about his downfall; this time a sharp catch from debutant Alex Doolan at short leg was responsible.

Hashim Amla saw off the rest of Johnson’s opening spell, but his head snapped back violently when the 32-year-old landed a mighty blow above his grill.

There was more shock and awe to come in a brutal three-over spell that preceded tea and featured the wicket of JP Duminy for 10.

Duminy fell after an hour of stodgy resistance in similar fashion to Smith, while allrounder Ryan McLaren was left bleeding behind his ear when Johnson struck him on the side of the helmet.

Johnson dismissed McLaren and AB de Villiers, the only batsman to look totally comfortable against him in this match, in quick session after the start of the final session.

Australia wrapped up the big win despite some late hitting from Vernon Philander, with the run-out of Morne Morkel by Nathan Lyon ending the carnage.