There really is nothing quite like a series against Australia. Forget all the boardroom squabbling just for a second and focus on the cricket stuff. The thumping sound of leather on wood and the snarling of bowlers at batsmen, it’s quite lovely if all the off-field stuff can be put aside.
Australia are fresh off a crushing win over England, where their visitors seemingly spent their team meetings wondering how they could perform even worse than in their previous outing. One of the architects of the demolition job was Mitchell Johnson. Yes, the same Johnson who was ostracised, mocked and generally the laughing stock of cricket just a few months ago.
Johnson ended the series with 37 wickets, his left-arm pace clocking 150km/h on the speed gun from time to time. Although speed guns are about as trustworthy as the ICC calling something “unanimously”, Johnson was, at times, simply perfect to watch.
For cricket fans, there are few things as wonderfully enchanting as a fast bowler in full visceral flow, even if he is Australian. But now things are shifting. Johnson returns to the country where his Test career was nearly ended in 2011. With three wickets for 255 runs and a broken toe to show for his lack of efforts, Johnson returned to Australia that year needing surgery and his career looking on the wane thanks to a poor performance. In hindsight, that break was a blessing in disguise as Johnson was determined to bounce back and did all the hard work to make it so.
But now there’s another chapter about to be added to this book. The man with the moustache has a history against the Proteas.
He might have been the man responsible for breaking Graeme Smiths hand many moons ago, but since then, South Africa have found a way to neutralise him time and time again.
His overall average in South Africa is 34.47 and the last time he visited these shores, he managed just a handful of wickets. Similarly, when South Africa toured Australia in 2012, he was more yawn-inducing rather than nerve-wracking. South Africa know how to put the mockers on Johnson and while he and his captain might like to talk a big game, things won’t be quite so easy in South Africa.
While his fellow bowlers Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle were both apt in their deputy duties, leading the attack on South African soil against South Africa’s batsmen is a different kettle of fish. Conditions will be suitable, sure, but South Africa’s batsmen won’t be quite so fallible as the limp English.
The pressure is all on Johnson. For all his squealing gesturing, there is a calm and serene South African in response. But more importantly, he spent most of the Australian summer not only largely flattered by England's ineptitude, but he also never once bowled over 26 overs in an innings.
While he might be in the form of his life, he has rarely had to deal with long spells of sustained pressure during the Ashes. England’s batsmen rarely put the pressure on the bowlers and it was all downhill for Mitchell and co for most of the Australian summer.
Now the tables will be turned. How will the attack cope when Harris inevitably breaks down? How will they cope when Nathan Lyon is actually played properly and the task of building pressure is transferred onto the quicks?
Similarly, what then of Australia’s own fragile batting unit? When the Aussie batsmen let their bowlers down during the Ashes in England earlier in the year, the bowlers struggled. Although they all bowled well, the pressure and workload hoisted upon them took its toll both physically and mentally. With a fired up Dale Steyn, snarling Vernon Philander and tight-as-thunder Morne Morkel, the Aussie batsmen have a pretty tough time ahead on South African soil. If the Australian bowlers have no total to bowl at, how will they deal with such pressure?
Michael Clarke has already said that he
believes his bowling attack is the best in the world. His words have been
echoed by a number of his teammates. it’s already added extra spice to the
contest. A few words exchanged in public
is part and parcel of a South Africa vs Australia clash.
Johnson hasn’t been overly mouthy, but he is certainly full of confidence. Confidence might play a massive role in how a player performs, but overall, Johnson might very well end up leaving the South African tour as the Mo Australia won’t know rather than the Mo who couldn’t stop having a go.
Antoinette Muller is a freelance writer who writes mainly about
soccer and cricket for The Daily Maverick or anybody else who will have