Sport Cricket What it’s really like to face Mitchell Johnson

What it’s really like to face Mitchell Johnson

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Fremantle’s district cricket players knew they’d be in for a tough day at the office when they found out they’d be facing Mitchell Johnson on Saturday.

Johnson, who retired from international cricket in November as Australia’s fourth-highest Test wicket-taker, is preparing to travel to the sub-continent for the upcoming Indian Premier League Twenty20 tournament.

His build-up included a grade cricket match for Wanneroo and one of the Fremantle boys, Joel Crosswell, tells the tale of facing one of the fastest – and most terrifying bowlers – the game has ever seen.

You wouldn’t even call me an all-rounder – I’m more of a hitter down the order.

This is my third WACA club now. I also played for Midland-Guildford and Bayswater-Morley.

I’d had five years off grade cricket but came back to Fremantle this year, just to play with a few mates and enjoy myself – and I was until I found out I’d be facing Mitchell Johnson last Saturday.

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We had an inkling Johnson was going to play a few weeks ago when a few of the guys at the WACA (Western Australian Cricket Association) were saying he was bowling with Wanneroo, training before going to the IPL.

We had a fair idea he’d play the last game of the season, and then we knew for sure a few days before.

Everyone was feeding off each other at training and there was a bit of fearmongering going on, the old “broken arm” thing – everyone worried about getting damaged.

Johnson was never more fearsome than in the 2013/14 Ashes, when he claimed 37 wickets with some awesome pace bowling. Photo: Getty
Johnson was never more fearsome than in the 2013/14 Ashes, when he claimed 37 wickets with some awesome pace bowling. Photo: Getty

I’m a beef boner. I have to work Monday to Friday, and I didn’t want a broken hand or broken ribs. Work is quite physical and hands on.

But there was a fair bit of excitement too. Mitchell Johnson’s a legend, and a few of the guys were looking forward to it.

I like to bat without an inner-thigh pad on, so I had to change that at training during the week.

I batted at nine – I usually bat around there.

There was a fair bit of fear in the rooms before he bowled that day, everyone waiting for him to come on.

And the first few balls he bowled – everyone was like “oh jeez”.

He was hitting the gloves and the ‘keeper was taking them head-high.

Fremantle’s a good new-ball wicket and it can be a bit hairy if you get a quick bowler on that pitch.

With his second ball, he bowled Chris Fenner, and Chris pretty much said “yeah, that’s too good for me” – it was one of those late, searing in-swingers.

There was a bit of banter going on amongst the guys after that.

Jake Carder played him quite well, because he’s played a lot of Futures League Cricket with Western Australia, but he got a good ball from Mitch.

Chris Davenport, another of my team-mates, got bowled from the first ball he faced from Mitch.

He said he was hoping for a sighter – and didn’t get one. His off peg got rattled.

I was hoping I wasn’t going to face him.

He had bowled two or three overs of his second spell and I’m whacking the pads on, hoping he gets through it.

But I did face him – at the death with a bit of an older ball on a slowing wicket.

When I first got in, I was thankful to be facing a spinner, and it was a bit surreal because Mitchell was giving a bit of lip at mid-off. Giving me a bit of a hurry-up, because I was blocking a few.

He bowled two overs at the end, and I faced eight or nine of those balls.

The first ball I was just in survival mode, really.

You shorten your backlift, you get well back and across just to give yourself as much time to hit whatever it’s going be.

I was very scratchy early, but by the time Mitch came on I’d played a few shots – a six and a couple of fours – and was going alright, so I thought he’d give me a few upstairs.

Still smiling: Joel Crosswell will have a great tale for the grandkids. Photo: Fremantle Cricket Club
Still smiling: Joel Crosswell will have a great tale for the grandkids. Photo: Fremantle Cricket Club

He dropped one in short, and I don’t even know what I was thinking, but I instinctively pulled him for four.

I didn’t want any eye contact after it, I just got on with it. I knew he’d be looking to spray me.

I just put my head down and didn’t look at him for two overs.

A few balls later, I’ve pulled him again – I’m a compulsive puller – and thought “what have I done here?”. I regretted it instantly.

Then, still off Johnson, I’ve nicked one over the ‘keeper for four.

I was pretty happy to walk away to square leg and look somewhere else after that.

He didn’t give me any lip, just walked back to his mark and bowled me a good slower ball that I missed.

On the last ball of his spell, I thought I’d give myself a bit of room and try and hit him, and I ended up punching one back past him.

I was only going to try that on his last ball.

Later on, I was the fifth change bowler. I haven’t been bowling that well and we’ve got a pretty handy attack.

But wickets just kept falling, and I ended up snaffling him.

It was a bit of a lucky wicket – I knew he was going to try putting me back over my head so I bowled a slower ball which ended up being a low full toss.

Luckily for me, he miscued to mid-wicket.

It was a great thrill for me, and it just goes to show cricket’s a funny game – anything can happen on the day.

Fremantle won well, with Crosswell’s 47 not out – off 44 balls – helping his side to a score of 174. Johnson finished with 3-41 off 10 overs.

In response, Wanneroo were bowled out for 89. Johnson made 10 at number six, but Crosswell was the man-of-the-match, after claiming 4-21 from 6.3 overs.

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