MELBOURNE, (Reuters) – Mercurial paceman Mitchell Johnson, who has admitted to ‘choking’ in two different test series against England, could be in line for another shot at Ashes redemption if he keeps taking wickets, according to Australia captain Michael Clarke.
The 31-year-old Queenslander was overlooked for the recent Ashes, which England won 3-0, but gave a timely reminder of his pedigree on Sunday in Australia’s emphatic one-day international win over the hosts.
Johnson has thrilled and frustrated Australian cricket fans throughout a roller-coaster career of 51 tests and 126 ODIs, but nipped and swung the new ball around savagely in Manchester to capture two wickets and concede only 36 runs in a venomous 10-over spell that helped Australia seal an 88-run victory.
The rising delivery that had Jonathon Trott caught behind for a first-ball duck was virtually unplayable and may give Australia’s selectors food for thought as fitness queries dog a number of frontline seamers.
“He bowled really well,” Clarke, man-of-the-match after scoring a splendid century, told reporters.
“He’s bowling a good pace and he swung the new ball so they’re positive signs for not only Mitch but also Australian cricket going forward, that’s for sure.
“I think if Mitch continues to bowl the way he’s bowling, there’s no doubt he wants to be a part of all three forms of the game. “And all you can do is perform, as a bowler take wickets and if you’re a batter score runs, and the selectors will certainly have to think about it.”
A left-arm swing bowler who thrives on confidence and crumbles in its absence, Johnson was named the ICC’s Cricketer of the Year in 2009, but may be more famous for his meltdown during Australia’s 2-1 series loss to England that year.
Johnson struggled for line and length, particularly at the Lord’s test, and was demoted to first change bowler during the series.
In the following 2010-11 series Down Under, Johnson was dropped after being caned by England’s batsmen in the opening test in Brisbane but was recalled for the third test in Perth, where he dazzled with a 10-wicket man-of-the-match performance on his favoured WACA pitch.
Johnson struggled for the remainder of the lost 3-1 series and later admitted publicly that taunts from England fans throughout both Ashes had affected his form and confidence.
Johnson can expect more of the same treatment from touring fans if handed another baggy green cap for the opening test of the return Ashes series in Brisbane on Nov. 21, but local fans will pray for a reprisal of the bowler who took six wickets and broke the fingers of two Sri Lanka batsmen in a Melbourne test last year.
While Johnson could pad Australia’s pace bowling stocks, which have been hit by injuries to Ryan Harris and James Pattinson, Australia’s spin bowling is still a work in progress, as seen by Fawad Ahmed’s struggles in his ODI debut in Manchester.
Leg spinner Ahmed, a Pakistan-born refugee whose citizenship was fast-tracked to allow him to play for Australia, was belted for 7.85 runs an over in a tough spell that reaped a solitary wicket when wicketkeeper Jos Buttler miscued a slog to mid-on. Australia have tried in vain to find a replacement for Shane Warne since the leg spinner great’s retirement in 2007, and Clarke was diplomatic about the latest candidate’s performance. “He’s an attacking legspinner and he’ll look to take wickets all the time,” Clarke said of Muslim Ahmed, whose request to drop a sponsor’s beer brand logo from his shirt sparked a minor controversy in Australia last week.
“He’s certainly not intimidated by this level or by the opposition … So I thought be bowled really well today without too much luck.”