Thursday 22 February 2018

Johnson reminds us of life in fast lane

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Johnson has brought back the memories of the days when fast bowlers ruled the world
Johnson has brought back the memories of the days when fast bowlers ruled the world

Eamonn Sweeney

Now that the stereotypical Whingeing Pom stuff employed by England to disguise their inadequacies against Australia in the Ashes has died down, it's time to celebrate the most striking feature of the series to date, the bowling of Mitchell Johnson.

The sight of Johnson bowling with plenty of pace and aggression en route to taking 17 wickets in the first two Tests underlines that there's nothing quite like seeing a genuinely frightening fast bowler doing his thing.

As a teenager, Johnson was picked out as one for the future by Denis Lillee, one half of the most terrifying fast-bowling duo of all. Lillee and Jeff Thomson weren't just fast, though Thomson may have been the fastest of all-time, they also gave the impression of going about their work with extreme prejudice. Thomson's comment, "I enjoy hitting a batsman more than getting him out. I like to see blood on the pitch," captured the spirit of his bowling.

It was the punishment they took at the hands of Australia in the 1975-76 series which prompted the West Indies to unleash their own fast bowlers. The quintet of Andy Roberts, Colin Croft, Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding and Joel Garner were like nothing the world had seen before, giving the West Indies the ability to keep up an all-day onslaught against batsmen who usually looked spooked. Holding's 'Whispering Death' nickname nicely illustrates the menace they carried.

In terms of sheer terror there isn't anything in the modern game to rival the likes of Thomson, Lillee, Croft and Holding. The limitation on the number of bouncers and the adoption of protective headgear mean we'll never again see anything like the barrage launched by Roberts and Holding against veteran English batsmen Brian Close and John Edrich in the third Test in 1976. Close and Edrich were struck by multiple short-pitched deliveries and never played Test cricket again.

Intimidation through fast bowling has a long history in the game. In the 1932-33 Ashes, England put the fear of God into the home side through the 'bodyline' bowling of Harold Larwood, who aimed at the upper bodies and heads of the Australian players, knocking out two of them in the third Test.

Johnson hasn't quite reached those heights, or depths, yet. But he has brought back the memories of the days when fast bowlers ruled the world.

Irish Independent

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