He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right, but Mitchell Johnson will decide who wins this fight.
On the face of it, this claim hardly seems credible. Mitchell Johnson is a flawed sportsman: his technique is poor and his mind is fragile. However, I really believe that Johnson’s performances in this series will decide who wins the urn; it’s not because I think he’ll be either brilliant or terrible – to be honest, he’ll probably be somewhere in between – it’s because I think run rates will decide this series. In fact, I’m damn sure they will.
Picking Johnson is a massive, massive gamble by the Australians. He’s been selected because he’s shown good form with the white ball. So what. Boyd Rankin and Steve Finn have looked brilliant in recent ODIs, but in first class fixtures they’ve struggled for England. The longer form of the game requires more discipline.
What’s more, Johnson’s inclusion undermines the whole reason why Australia were competitive during their 0-3 defeat this summer: the Aussie attack, led wholeheartedly by Ryan Harris, usually had control over England’s batsmen. Our run rates throughout the series were anaemic.
Last winter, England had a problem with their top order. Nick Compton was scoring runs, but the blend was wrong. Cook, Compton and Trott were all snails, showing haste but not speed; we consistently struggled to score more than two and a half runs per over.
Compton was therefore dropped to make way for the dashing Joe Root. Unfortunately, however, Root found no rhythm as an opener and ended up batting just as slowly as Compton. The problem persisted.
Because England went into their shells at the start of innings, the Australian bowlers were rarely put under pressure. They bowled with increasing confidence and generally sustained this self-belief throughout the series.
As a result, it was England’s batsmen who felt under pressure; the top order looked anxious and worried where the next boundary was coming from.
Now throw Mitchell Johnson into the equation. Considering that the last team who won the Ashes down under did so by drying up the runs and keeping batsmen honest, why would anyone think firing a loose cannon at England’s batsmen is a good idea?
I’d wager it isn’t. I expect Johnson to take some valuable wickets – wickets which will cloud the real issue – but if he bowls lots of loose balls too, and England’s batsmen aren’t so worried where the next runs are coming from, I fully expect England to win the series.
With Mitch in the Australian side, England’s run rate should climb to around three or three and a half. Over the course of a day, a test, and a series, that’s an awful lot of runs.
The Aussie selectors are probably counting on Mitch to rattle our batsmen. Maybe they think an injection of genuine pace is worth the extra runs he’ll concede.
This premise is flawed. What will worry England most – genuine pace (something the likes of Tino Best and Fidel Edwards, two bowlers England have had no trouble with in the past, have in abundance) or the fact we can’t buy a run? I think we all know the answer. When boundaries come, batsmen’s confidence grows.
Or maybe Australia just think England have a problem with left armers. Hmmm. Let’s think about this one …
When did England last face a left arm seamer with a bit of pace; someone who can swing the ball but isn’t the most reliable?
Ah yes. It was Mitchell Starc! Remember what happened to him? He was dropped for conceding too many runs and then got injured.
Once again, if the Aussies have picked Johnson because he’s left handed (and they think England’s batsmen struggle with the angle), they’re barking up the wrong gum tree.
The bottom line is this: England did not score over 400 in a single test last summer – either against Australia or New Zealand; the Kiwis also bowled with great discipline but were let down by their batsmen.
By picking Mitchell Johnson, therefore, the Aussie are like a man who invented a machine capable of predicting lottery numbers, but who forgets – or chooses not to – turn the damn thing on before he buys his ticket. It boggles the mind. Why ignore past experience on a whim?
Before I sign off though, I’d like to add a big fat caveat: my whole argument rests on the assumption that Mitchell Johnson will actually leak runs throughout the series.
What happens if, by some miracle, he hits a groove and bowls quite economically (as well as taking wickets), and Australia maintain control in the field?
What happens in this scenario? England lose the Ashes. That’s what. It doesn’t bear thinking about.