Sunday 18 March 2018

Johnson conquers demons to expose English flaws

Derek Pringle

Mitchell Johnson appears to have lost his fear of playing England, while their apprehension of him appears to be growing, after a searing spell of fast bowling at the Gabba put Australia in charge of the first Ashes Test.

Johnson (right) bowled fast and furious to take 4-61, a performance that does not bode well for England's chances of retaining the Ashes should he manage to sustain it.

He was the top wicket-taker in the innings, and his ability to bowl at over 90mph clearly unsettled England's batsmen, who at one stage lost six wickets for nine runs in a horrific 54-minute period after lunch.

When teams lose wickets to sheer pace like Johnson's, the contagion is difficult to stop. Australia once lost seven wickets for 29 runs against the West Indies in Perth after Dean Jones had riled Curtly Ambrose by asking the umpire to get him to remove his white wristbands. Ambrose responded with match figures of 7-25 to stun Australia.

Some of England's batsmen looked visibly shaken after Johnson roughed them up with the bouncer. It was an abject performance, but one not unusual for England in the first Test of an overseas series.

For some reason – and team director Andy Flower claims to have addressed this with English cricket's finest minds – the batting tends to fail spectacularly, something it did in Dunedin earlier this year against New Zealand and in Dubai last year against Pakistan.

Discounting Bangladesh, you have to go all the way back to 2004 to find when England last won their opening Test overseas.

In the past against England it has usually been Johnson who has been found wanting. His often wayward bowling has been the butt of at least one song by the Barmy Army, while another has dissected the allegedly awkward relationship between his partner and his mother.

His penchant for tattoos caused some to question whether they were an outward manifestation of a sensitive soul trying to be more macho for the day job. If true, it fell flat when he admitted that negative chants from the crowd affected him.

A magnificent athlete, Johnson has always possessed the ability to bowl fast, if not straight. But recent work with Dennis Lillee, arguably Australia's finest fast bowler, appears to have transformed that part of his game as well as helping him to stay mentally strong. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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