Some said he is lethal, others said he is wayward. The first Ashes test at Gabba showed the world that he can be among the best.
Most of us who grew up in the late 80′ and 90′s missed the opportunity of watching the hostile bowling of West indies and the Aussie pace bowlers of the 70′s and only heard it from our father, uncle, grandfather or commentators. Even today, there are few better sights in world cricket than watching a genuine fast bowler steaming in at 150 km/h firing it towards ribs, chest and helmet.
A glimpse of it was on display at the Gabba in the first test match of Ashes Down under. English batsmen were jumping, ducking, swaying away from the line and at times attempting to hook. Words used to best describe it – #Intimidatory #hostile #nasty.
At one point in the game, there was a leg slip, short leg, square leg and deep fine leg – It reminded of the bodyline series. Watching the action from your drawing room was exciting. Not sure if the English batsmen would share the same opinion.
Aussie wicket keeper Brad Haddin was quoted saying,
“He [Mitchell Johnson] was hitting 154 km/h, It’s as good and as fast as I’ve seen him. We faced him [at training] leading up to the Test match when he was trying to get ready. It is definitely no fun in the nets.”
Since the time he made his debut, he has been rated highly by his peers and ex cricketers around the world. Dennis Lille even said that he is a “once in a lifetime bowler”.
Huge compliment coming in from the legend himself. However, unfortunately he has also been accused of being wayward at times. He has been guilty of giving away too many boundary balls. He is NOT the one who is known for accuracy and consistency. He did not find a spot in the team during the recently concluded Investec Ashes in England.
But the question is – did he do something different in the Gabba Test match? Because he looked far more effective and consistent. It’s way too early in the series to analyze this performance and compare it to his past few performances but comparing stats between his recent 5 test matches played in similar conditions to that of 1st test at Gabba did throw up some interesting insights.
100 % – increase in maiden overs bowled 9 maidens out of the 38 overs bowled compared to 19 out of 155 in the previous 5 Test matches.75 % - decrease in rate of boundaries conceded. Conceded boundaries as rarely as every 3. 3 overs, compared to last 5 Test matches where a boundary was conceded every 2 overs.
Bowling maiden overs is not what Johnson is known for. Maiden over helps you bowl more deliveries on the trot at the same batsman – better way to execute plans against a batsman – which potentially leads to dismissal.
At the same time, when you are NOT bowling maidens – it is imperative to not leak runs easily too. Idea is to not release pressure if you cannot create it. For the attacking bowler he is, if he can bowl more dot balls at a batsman without giving away too many boundary balls – he could be one of Top 3 test bowlers in the next 12 to 18 months . Currently Dale Steyn and Philander are the 2 fast bowlers who feature in top 3 ICC test rankings.
Short pitch length and outside leg stump line – Unlike James Anderson or Dale Steyn who rely on swing – Mitchell Johnson get most of his wickets with short pitch or short of good length bowls. If you have seen him bowl in the past, you would not be surprised.
Above graphic justifies this. While there was increase in % of short balls, what was noticeable was the line. He bowled consistently outside leg into the ribs and caused problem to English batsmen. Coaches would tell you – good short pitch bowl is the one which makes the batsman play. Preferably aimed at the ribs – so that the batsman cannot sway away from the line easily. Exactly what Johnson did and it earned him 5 out of his 9 wickets in this Test match.
The wicket of Michael Carberry was one such one planned event- which appeared as Michael Clarke‘s master plan. When a left handed bowler bowls around the wicket to a left handed batsman and he gets it to bounce, it is generally uncomfortable for the batsman. Batsman start protecting his ribs – in the process gets short leg and leg slip into play. As a batsman, you do not get enough room to hook or pull. In such situations, batsmen in the past have made minor adjustments by opening up their stance.
This gives the batsman little more room to deal with short pitch ball. Will the 2 Left handed English openers Cook and Carberry adopt this technique to counter the Aussie tactics is something to watch out for. Also, with Jonathon Trott’s opting out of the series, England batting order suddenly looks unsettled.With Adelaide considered as Australia’s best batting wicket and it being the venue for the second Test match – English batsman will get a chance to train & execute their plans before the actions shifts to Perth in the 3rd test match. Ian Bell might get promoted to No 3 as he has been there in the past. It will be interesting to see how English batsman deal with this fiery Aussie pace attack – Mitchell Johnson in particular.
“Win Gabba – win Ashes” they say. Whatever the result would be, this Ashes is going to be one exciting series. Watch out!