Thursday, 4 June 2015

Where is terrifying Mitch?

For a while I was terrified of Mitchell Johnson. There was an Ashes series, I’m told, where he was very frightening. Personally I don’t remember. It does seem strange that two Ashes in a row will be in England, but I’m pretty sure there wasn’t an Ashes series during either of the last two winters.

Joking aside, for two series eighteen months ago, Mitchell Johnson terrorised England and South Africa. In three and a half months, he went from has-been laughing stock to the best and fastest bowler in the world.

Since then, he has 22 wickets at 30.59, and while those figures aren’t that bad, they’re also not that great for a bowler of his supposed class. He doesn’t have a five wicket innings haul in that time, or for that matter more than five in a match.

Look back to the World Cup, and those figures have more lustre, with 15 wickets at 21.73. Forward to the IPL, and it’s pretty terrible, averaging 37.33 with an economy rate of 9.37 for his nine wickets.

Now it’s his first taste of Test cricket since India at home just before the World Cup, and Australia are in Dominica. His first spell of the match ended after three overs, not a short spell by design, like he was used to great effect in the last Ashes, instead a bowler taken off because he was bowling poorly. He improved in later spells, getting Shai Hope caught at gully, and castling Denesh Ramdin.

There’s something missing though, and it’s extreme pace. His slingy action and left arm delivery still make him awkward to face, but with his pace dropping from 150 to 140kph, his menace is diminished. The visceral thrill you’d feel, even in the safety of your living room, has faded.

When he was troubling the best batsmen from two very good teams, it seemed like new version Mitch was here to stay. He’d been great before, but he’d never been so purely terrifying. But maybe that’s the problem, maybe he was never going to sustain that pace, and therefore that terror. He wasn’t swinging it. That was how he had his initial success, six years ago now, but he’d abandoned that to be the battering ram that broke England apart.

Fast-forward a month or so, past this two Test hors d'oeuvres, and it’s the Ashes. The scene of his greatest heights and his lowest lows. The mustached terror, and the ridiculed spray gun. Are this England team still scarred, or do the new guns hold no fear? Which Mitch shall we see? Terror, terrible, or just… this.

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