Mitchell Johnson – An Apology

Here is a statement:

‘In common with other media outlets, we recently published a number of articles, under such headlines as “Johnson, Mitch or Myth?”, which may have given the impression that Mitchell Johnson’s selection for the third Test match in Perth was cast iron evidence that the Australian selectors were away with the pixies, and that England were now certain to retain the Ashes. Indeed, the passage “make no mistake, KP and Straussy will splatter this chap’s pies all round the WACA” may in particular have given rise to the unintentional inference that Mr Johnson might find serious difficulty in purveying a hoop downhill.

We now accept that Mr Johnson is in fact the greatest left-handed all rounder since Sir Garfield Sobers, and we apologise to all Australian cricket lovers for any distress which may have been caused by our earlier articles, which we now unreservedly withdraw.’

When Ricky Ponting fronted up to the media after his team’s hiding in Adelaide, the word he kept coming up with to explain Australia’s failings was “execution”. Your first thought was that calling for the re-introduction of capital punishment was a bit harsh, but what he meant was that he felt he had a team of good players who’d simply failed to perform, rather than sharing the media’s view that he was in charge of a team of bad players incapable of performing at all.

Less than an hour into the Perth Test match, Ponting might not have been quite so sure. Steve Smith had been selected partly, as the player himself said, “to add some fun, like telling a joke or something or something like that out on the field”, but when Smith came in to join Michael Hussey at 36 for 4, it’s probably safe to assume that he didn’t start the conversation with “hi Huss. Have you heard the one about the actress and the bishop?”

However, as the game went on, Ponting’s belief that he had the personnel to turn things around began to look less and less like the ramblings of someone not far away from being led away by men in white coats, and the player who turned it all around for Australia was perhaps the most unlikely candidate of all. Everyone agreed that Ponting was spot on with his pre-match prediction that “Mitchell Johnson will be dangerous at the WACA”, but to whom? It certainly wasn’t difficult to conjure up a picture of Johnson proving dangerous, but the only image that came to mind was the unlucky chap appointed to field at short leg to him being stretchered off after copping one in the ear.

After the Brisbane Test, Johnson’s morale was about as high as his bowling arm, which had dropped so far below the equator that the only prospect, or so it seemed, of him ever representing his country again was as an Olympic discus thrower. And there was such a media outcry at him being recalled without bowling another competitive ball, that the four selectors were pictured with fried eggs superimposed on their heads. In England, we tend to favour the root vegetable when it comes to dispensing sporting ridicule, but the sentiment was much the same.

So it’s safe to assume that the Australian selectors, who ordered Johnson into remedial net sessions with the bowling coach instead of sending him off to play a state match, were feeling fairly smug afterwards. It seemed inconceivable that England would not take a first innings lead when they were 78 for 0, but after Johnson had taken them apart with a weapon thought to have been lost for ever – fast, late swing – England were left with a deficit of 81.

From the start of the second innings in Brisbane until just before Alastair Cook got out on Friday morning in Perth, England’s running total against Australia stood 1215 for 6. Since when they’ve made 232 for 20. We’ve seen it all before over here, and to expect to go through an entire Australian tour without seeing an England disintegration is about as likely as going for a drive in the country without spotting a kangaroo. But the real shock was that this is the first time the descent to terra firma has come from such a dizzy height.

Andrew Strauss did his best to sound upbeat at the press conference afterwards, but if he said “we’ve got to take it on the chin” once, he said it a hundred times. In fact, he took it on the chin so often that they probably had to take him to hospital with concussion.

It was a clean, quick death on the fourth morning, so quick in fact that there wasn’t even time for a Barmy to be evicted for illegal drinking inside one of the designated ‘dry’ areas. There was the bizarre sight on the previous morning of three pink-frocked men with hairy legs being escorted from the premises by members of the WA constabulary, who didn’t have to be Columbo to work out that it’s quite hard to get quite so rubbery-legged unless you’ve added a little something to what looks like a coca cola.

England were always likely to find this their toughest Test of the five, given that their batsmen, as history shows, seldom prosper on the WACA’s bouncy pitches. However, Australia appeared to be in such disarray after Adelaide that you wondered whether they were not such in need of the Doctor (the afternoon wind which blows in from Fremantle) as a priest.

Johnson, though, got the Australians’ competitive juices flowing, and for once – not staring at scoreboards reading something like 500 for 1 – they felt able to indulge in a spot of sledging. Far too much is made of this kind of thing – as Allan Border once put it, the Ashes “isn’t an effing tea party” – but this was the first time we’ve actually seen a player invite another one around the back of the stand, as Matt Prior appeared to do with Peter Siddle.

This is a strong enough England side mentally to cope with suddenly losing the momentum, and this was nothing like the routine thrashing that used to take place over here. The point was made by the Australians themselves in performing a semi lap of honour, and waving to their supporters afterwards. In the old days, they’d merely have stifled a few yawns walking back to the dressing room, so we can almost take this kind of thing as a compliment.

The one thing you can’t compliment England on, however, is the way they dress for post-match press conferences. Wearing hats with the name of an insurance company plastered all over them makes them look like Formula One racing drivers, while the Australians, by contrast, turn out in their baggy green caps. This is a three-year deal, apparently, and whoever at the ECB sanctioned this vulgar exercise in making even more money than the players already earn, ought to be ashamed of themselves.

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