Every time Mitchell Johnson runs to bowl, he does so with a purpose. A purpose that rarely gets highlighted. In a day and age where bowlers continue to flirt with the idea of different delivery variations, the speedster runs towards the batsman with the sole intention of instilling fear in his opponent’s mind.
But as a youngster, the Australian had to deal with numerous stress fractures before he eventually reached his peak. He’s relieved cricket is finally focusing on fitness as a core aspect of the game. Having joined the MRF pace academy in Chennai at the age of 19 under the tutelage of Dennis Lillee, Johnson has come a long way.
“Fitness has changed a lot. Earlier the running programmes were all the same and we all did the same thing. As a fast bowler one needs to be strong in the core and the glutes – doing a lot of single leg workouts is essential”, he said at the launch of Bowlfit – a fitness training tool he helped create for fast bowlers. The app has over 300 videos that users can access to hone their bowling skills.
Over the years, Johnson has had the opportunity to observe fast bowlers by the bucket-loads. The Mumbai Indians veteran revealed certain trends and warned youngsters not to get carried away, sweating it out in the gym for long durations.
“You can’t just go to the gym and try and get very big. There’s no point if you get too big in the upper body, a fast bowler loses his flexibility. It’s all about core and lower body strength. Playing T20, what’s the point of running 5-10 kms?”.
The art of fast bowling may seem pleasing to the eye but one doesn’t realise the mere action of bowling isn’t a normal movement that the body adjusts to spontaneously. “I can’t remember a game where I have felt totally fresh, without niggles. You always have a niggle, it’s your mental capacity that matters. It’s a long process and I am still learning”, he stated.
Docile Indian wickets are affecting the fast bowlers
Johnson has a theory on why Indian fast bowlers can’t seem to hit rapid speeds at the peak of their careers. He attributes this phenomenon to the nature of Indian wickets and the fact that they’re essentially suited for spinners
“Over the last four years, there’s been a huge improvement in the physique of Indian fast bowlers. One of the things that lets Indian fast bowlers down is playing on docile wickets. Wickets should be like the Gabba and the Waca”.
“Ishant Sharma is a good example. When he entered the scene, he was bowling at 150 km/hr. He just couldn’t keep it up because he was bowling on flat wickets day in day out. It plays with your mind and body as well. You can’t keep bending your back every day on these kind of wickets”, he explained.
While Johnson may have won numerous cricketing awards, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for the Australian. He recalled an incident during his domestic playing days, which eventually turned out to be a moment of clarity for him. Back when he plied his trade for Queensland, the pacer revealed that he was a mere shadow of what he is today – in terms of work ethic and application.
“In the first few years of my professional career, I was lazy. When I was playing for Queensland, I remember watching Matthew Hayden, we were in a net session which went on for three hours. After that, while I was stretching, I saw Hayden facing the bowling machine again”.
“He just kept hitting ball after ball. I was like what is he doing? We’ve just had a massive training session, why is he hitting more balls? It’s didn’t make sense to me. Then it clicked, that’s why he’s playing for Australia, he’s doing extra work, extra running. That opened my eyes and realised If I want to play for Australia, I have to do the extra stuff”, he signed off.