Mitch: beautiful, violent
As the dust settled on Australia’s barnstorming win over South Africa at Centurion, Mitchell Johnson spoke about how the Australian quicks were working well together as a team.
This has become one of the tedious platitudes so beloved by modern sportsmen, the fast bowler’s equivalent of the batsman’s ‘I’ll bat where the skip wants me’, and so forth.
Such sentiments from Johnson are starting to sound increasingly hollow, like Gary Ablett trying to convince us that a Gold Coast victory was ‘a team effort’, or giving half the credit for Richard Hadlee’s scalps to Ewen ‘into the wind’ Chatfield.
Yet Johnson’s performances this summer have been so astonishing that he is starting to make Chatfields out of Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle.
That is some feat. Remember, it was only in November that Craig McDermott pointed out that, statistically, ‘Rhino’ was among the best Australian bowlers of all-time. And a few months before that, Siddle was the leader of the pack.
Johnson’s rampaging form reached a crescendo of symphonic proportions at Centurion, an irresistible combination of beauty and violence.
He made mincemeat of Graeme Smith in the first innings in a manner worthy of the Coen brothers (the wood chipper scene in Fargo springs to mind).
Helmets were smashed, fingers pummelled and blood spilt. This was England revisited – with interest.
This column sheepishly mentioned Johnson in the same breath as Keith Miller and Alan Davidson after the Gabba Test, yet such radical and revisionary assessments of this one-time laughing stock are looking increasingly legitimate.
Johnson’s achievements should not be reduced by the deadening hand of statistics, so we will stick to this one: since the start of the Ashes, Johnson has taken 49 wickets at 13.14. Next best, Harris, has managed 24 wickets, less than half that return.
(Stop press: OK, here’s another ripper stat, courtesy of The New Daily’s Livewire: Johnson’s strike-rate of a wicket every 49.8 balls is the best of all the 35 Australians to have taken 100 Test wickets.)
Graeme Smith, crazy-brave
Smith’s comments about Johnson after the match were extraordinary.
There is, of course, some truth to them. Yes, the unpredictability of the pitch did contribute to Johnson’s potency and, yes, he has taken a lot of tail-end wickets in his latest incarnation.
Still, for a captain who made a monumental blunder by sending Australia in, and then survived only 18 balls for the match – falling to Johnson twice – one would have thought he would keep his trap shut. He is clearly under enormous pressure.
But there is another way of looking at it. Smith has long been one of the more combative, courageous characters in world cricket. He is not inclined to take a backward step. One senses that, under him, South Africa will not fold in the same way England did under the more passive Alastair Cook.
Fair cop, selectors
The Shaun Marsh scepticism before Centurion was almost universal.
Edward Sharp-Paul, writing in The New Daily, described him as a “proven failure” and a “grit-free strokeplayer”.
Another clown in the same publication, whose name escapes us, shrilly demanded that Phillip Hughes play ahead of Marsh in this Test.
Geoff Lemon upped the ante in The Guardian, suggesting that “Marsh should be so far from Test cricket that he’s banned from buying a cable connection … [his] continued selection stems from a collective delusion that infests the Australian panel like Dutch elm disease”.
Dave Warner multi-lingual? Who would have thought
“We’ve been told to play with cojones,” the Australian opener declared after his second innings ton.
For those unfamiliar with the patois of American gangster films, here is some help courtesy of the on-line Oxford:
1. informal, chiefly North American a man’s testicles. 2. courage; guts.
This is further evidence of the uninhibiting influence of Darren Lehmann, although we fear that telling Dave Warner to play with cajones is a bit like telling Miley Cyrus to take more risks.
How do you like the new short leg?
Two words for Alex Doolan’s amazing efforts at short leg: David & Boon.
Not a bad debut all round for the Tasmanian, who looks to have done enough to keep his spot for Port Elizabeth. Another tick for the selectors.
Watto update (the latest in a never-ending series)
If Watto is fit to play only as a batsman in the second Test, there is no room at the inn. If he is fit to bat and bowl, it will be very hard to find room at the inn. Not for the first time, his career is at the crossroads.