Mitchell Johnson the cricketer, not the man, had a dual personality. Fittingly, his dual personality manifested itself in two different ways too.
Firstly, Mitch the bowler had a split personality: the fearsome, occasionally unstoppable fast bowling menace, and the frail, flaccid, faltering figure who fell apart when the pressure was on.
Secondly, Mitch the person had two hugely contrasting sides: the aggressive (albeit somewhat goofy) tearaway we saw on the field, and the thoughtful, sensitive, almost bashful personality he was away from the cameras.
There’s no doubt about it. Mitchell Johnson will go down as one of the most colourful and fascinating cricketers of the last decade. For England supporters he was a pantomime villain to the very end: the career of the Australian we most loved to hate played out like a theatre script.
Mitch’s career was one of humiliating lows and glorious highs. The Johnson who lost the Ashes in 2010/11 was a joke. The Johnson who absolutely destroyed us in 2013/14 turned the punch line on its head: he produced the most awesome and sustained assault on English batting I’d witness for years.
Everything about Mitch was absurd in some ways: from his wildly oscillating performances to his rugged yet strangely metrosexual looks. His moustache was both manly and effeminate at the same time – a cross between Burt Reynolds and Basil Fawlty.
His bowling action summed it up: it was jerky but somehow fluid, ungainly but strangely loose-limbed, unnatural yet entirely natural at the same time. To bowl like Mitch did, yet take over 300 test wickets at a good average was ridiculous. He must have had an absurd amount of natural talent.
Mitchell Johnson wasn’t a great bowler in my opinion, but he was a hugely significant one. His record against New Zealand, England and South Africa was excellent, but he struggled a little against India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Overall, he was just too erratic to rank alongside the greats.
Yet when Mitch was on song he was undoubtedly great. There were times when his bowling touched greatness – I doubt many were better than Johnson when it all clicked – and his story was also a great one too.
It’s hard not to like someone who’s been through the ringer. There were times when Johnson prayed he’d get injured; times when he wanted to run away; times when all the abuse got too much to bear. But his retreat was merely strategic in the end. He regrouped, remodelled (to some extent anyway) and retaliated. Good on him.
Some have criticised the timing of Johnson’s retirement – it’s rarely good to go out mid-series – but there are extenuating circumstances. Mitch is a traditionalist. He doesn’t like the idea of playing day-night test cricket with a pink ball. If he wants to end his career before this highly anticipated, yet undeniably controversial game in Adelaide, then he has my sympathy.
As for his legacy, perhaps statistics are meaningless in this case. In an era when rapid bowlers are rare, and professional cricketers are media-trained and often characterless, Mitch was one of a kind – a real entertainer.
Would I want him in my team? It depends which Mitch turned up. But whether he was having a good day or a bad one, he was always worth watching.
Mitchell Johnson was box office. I think we’re all going to miss him.