Memoirs of Australian Left-Arm Gunslinger- Mitchell Johnson

Written by my friend Shoaib Zaheer

The prospect of a fast bowler running at rampant speeds towards the crease is always an endearing sight for fans in world cricket. The game has its own fair share of stories, journeys and memories of players reaching the zenith of their careers at a time when they were at the peril of being labeled as extinct by cricketing media and pundits. Sometimes players burst onto the field and set the world alight from the beginning of their careers while some have to try a little harder to cling on to events that transform their careers for good.

There have been the likes of superstars like Sachin Tendulkar, Dale Steyn and others who have come on the grandest stage of them all and flayed all the barriers in their path to become all-time greats but there are some who wait to bask in the glory of greatness. Mitchell Johnson was famously touted as a “once in a generation bowler” by none other than legendary pacer Dennis Lillee. Johnson had a perfect left-arm action with sling bowling at around 145 Kph at the start of his career. He was always believed to be the one for the future while Brett Lee was in the fag end of his journey, troubled with all sorts of injuries.

Johnson did show shades of his class in his first few career assignments, especially in his menacing spell at Durban where he ripped apart the South African batting lineup and helped his side avenge their defeat in Australia. As a fast bowler, he had the tendency to blow hot and cold as he could be menacing on one day and terribly erratic in the next.

However, Johnson was always a good one-day cricketer and could smash the ball a mile long with the bat but Test cricket sucks the life out of an individual to the limit. The five-day game is a test of mental stamina and endurance to perform well consistently and withstand all the obstacles laid down before your path.

Mitchell Johnson went to tour England for the first time in 2009 as Australians were pretty upbeat with their prospects of winning the Ashes in the country. The first game saw the visitors nearly win the encounter as England escaped with a herculean draw at Cardiff. The second Test match saw Johnson crumble to the pressures of Test cricket as fortunes fluctuated in favor of England. He bowled some of the worst spells of his career at Lords against England and had to bear the wrath of the Barmy Army who gave him the worst sledge of his life.

Johnson really went downhill after that as the bowling was not up to his usual standards. The cricketer went through bouts of self-doubt and estrangement with the game as Australia reached its lowest ebb in Test cricket to lose the Ashes series to England down under. Johnson was poor in the series barring one performance at his home ground Perth to produce Australia’s only win in the five-match series.

The loss was a devastating one for Johnson to take as he was condemned to the depth of hell with criticisms coming from all quarters of the game including a sarcastic song produced by the Barmy Army itself to poke at the bowler’s erratic tendency with the ball in hand.

He took time off the game clearly stating that he needed to assess his career as a whole and did not feature as a regular for Australia for almost three years. Sometimes a fast bowler struggling with a sense of purpose just needs to tap into his inner self and find the mongrel that will make him scale new heights of success. He worked hard on his bowling and with the help of Dennis Lillee started to make headlines across the circuit of being back to his best. Johnson was overlooked for the series in England as destiny had other plans reserved for when the old enemy arrived in 2014 in Australia, looking for their second successive triumph Down Under.

Mitchell Johnson was now no more the bowler of old and had blood on his mind as he was out for retribution against his oldest rivals England. He came with a bang bowling at menacing pace and throwing down the ball at awkward angles to see the visitors hopping at the crease. This time was no respite from Johnson as he ripped apart a quality England batting lineup to help his side seal a famous 5–0 whitewash in the series. Johnson was a menacing prospect and looked like a western gunslinger killing all its enemies in his path. He was an outlaw who was out for revenge with the ball in hand and his form drew parallels to the famous Johnny Cash song “Ain’t no grave holding my body down”.

He did not stop there and also destroyed South Africa at Centurion to bring back the memories of an old West Indian four-pace quartet who had the world’s batting on their knees for almost a decade.

Mitchell Johnson had to wait for his moment of greatness and defy all the odds to join the illustrious group of men who went down into the history of cricket as all-time greats.

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