KARACHI: Former Australian cricketer Dennis Lillee had dubbed a then 17-year-old Mitchell Johnson a ‘once-in-a-lifetime prospect’ during a fast-bowling clinic in Brisbane, urging his induction in the Australian Cricket Academy in Adelaide. From there on, Lillee’s protégé was identified by other mentors as the ‘next Brett Lee’, but the youngster was not to have it easy.
The next big thing for Australian cricket had a difficult start to his ODI career on his debut against New Zealand on December 10, 2005 at Christchurch, where he failed to take a wicket in nine overs, conceding 64 runs at an economy of 7.11.
The next five games saw sporadic displays from the left-armer, who proved expensive, especially on the pitches of the Centurion and Kuala Lumpur where he gave away 0-28 in three overs against South Africa and 2-65 against the West Indies in eight overs.
However, Johnson soon performed a U-turn in the DLF Cup against India just three days after his dismal performance against the Caribbean side in the same tournament, in the same city.
Australia had been bowled out for 244, while India’s reply was interrupted by rain twice before the match was officially abandoned. But before that, the men in blue received a jolt when they lost five wickets in just 18 balls, four of them courtesy of Johnson’s searing pace.
On the fifth ball of his third over, Rahul Dravid was sent back attempting to chip Johnson’s short of a length ball over the infield but ended up giving a simple catch to Damien Martyn at cover.
In came Irfan Pathan and the next ball crashed into the off-stump as Pathan tried to play inside the line.
A fiery Johnson left his mark once again in his next over, bowling a full delivery just outside off. Sachin Tendulkar, of all people, edged the drive through to Brad Haddin to give Johnson his third wicket. But he was not finished, Yuvraj was added to the list of casualties to finish with figures of 4-11 as India were reduced to 35-5 in just eight overs before rain interrupted Johnson’s onslaught.
Johnson was not as prolific until he burst into life again in the ODI series against India in 2008, but neither was he the erratic bowler that leaked runs early on in his career.
Aggressive, resilient, tattooed and boasting a furry lip-warmer in his latter years, Johnson has claimed eight four-wicket hauls, two five-fors and a best figure of 6-31 in 10 overs against Sri Lanka on August 10, 2011, including the big wickets of Mahela Jaywardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Mathews.
Bowling on a full length, he drew Jayawardene into a drive which the Sri Lankan legend could only edge behind to Haddin, while Sangakkara was deceived superbly by a slower delivery.
But the fiery pacer has not performed as well at home, and only one of his top 10 bowling figures have come in Australia.
Although he didn’t play in the 2007 World Cup, he was still a part of the winning squad, while the 2011 edition saw him bag seven wickets in 57.3 overs at an average of 4-19.
With the 2015 World Cup about to get underway, the lethal bowler has also proven to be a handy lower-order batsman, with a 43 and 73 not out against the West Indies and England respectively in 2009.
Mitchell Johnson, holder of the ICC Cricketer of the Year as well as the Test Cricketer of the Year awards for 2013-14, bowls it fast, and bowls it at the stumps; after all he has been recorded to bowl at 156.8km/h, one of the 10 fastest deliveries in cricketing history.
A lethal weapon for the World Cup co-hosts this year, people will expect him to spearhead his side with his trademark aggressive approach and how he would love to improve on his home record by lifting the biggest trophy at the end of it.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 8th, 2015.