Mitchell Johnson is in unstoppable form. Photo: Justin McManus
Mitchell Johnson is threatening to cap his exhilarating international comeback by joining one of the Ashes' most exclusive clubs.
Only three Australians have collected 40 or more wickets in a Test series against England in the 130 years the two combatants have gone head to head: Terry Alderman, who claimed 42 in the northern summer of 1981 and 41 in 1989, Rodney Hogg (41 in 1978/79) and Shane Warne (40 in 2005). All bar Warne's haul were in six-match series.
England vs Australia: Day 2 of the Ashes
Melbourne hosts another bumper day of record crowd numbers at the MCG for Day 2 of the fourth Ashes Test. Photo: Pat Scala
Johnson, with 28 to his name with an innings remaining in Melbourne and the fifth Test in Sydney next Friday, is all of a sudden within sight of entering that category after another devastating spell.
Having reached speeds of 155.8km/h in front of a world-record crowd on Boxing Day, he continued his tormenting of England with a burst on Friday morning that reaped 3-1 in 14 frightening balls.
And after silencing the taunts of the Barmy Army with a brutal late spell on day one at the MCG there was another gentle wave in the direction of the Great Southern Stand, where the England tour group is seated, when he raised the ball along with an open palm to signify another five-wicket haul.
''I'm enjoying it,'' Johnson said. ''I can't take full credit for that. We bowled really well [on Thursday] as a bowling unit again and we just keep sticking to our plans and it's been coming off.''
Johnson struck immediately on Friday. His first ball of the day was a beauty, travelling in an hurry towards the throat of Tim Bresnan. The tailender reared back and fended it away as best he could but it was snapped up by a retreating George Bailey at bat pad.
''It came out well, to get a wicket with my first ball,'' Johnson said. ''Ryano [Ryan Harris] set it up for me and I just continued on with it.''
There was another wicket to come four balls later when Kevin Pietersen blazed away with a wild slog and was bowled, and not long after he reproduced the sandshoe crusher that hurt Stuart Broad's foot at the WACA Ground. There was no injury this time but it struck low and in front of middle, Broad did not even bother with a TV-umpire inquiry.
Johnson has produced some incredible spells this summer, and this one began on Thursday afternoon when a record Test attendance reached a crescendo as he caused havoc with the second new ball.
''The crowd was amazing, a world-record crowd here for a Boxing Day Test and the last hour of that day was phenomenal,'' Johnson said. ''The crowd was going nuts. It was a really nice feeling.
''They definitely play a part. I wouldn't say it's everything but it definitely does help, in an afternoon like that where we might be a little bit flat and haven't got the wickets we wanted, you get the new ball and the crowd start going.''
All in all, Johnson's latest scintillating spell included a return of 5-14 over 42 balls either side of stumps on day one.
England's capitulation for 255, rammed home just how damaging Johnson's bursts have been in this series and a crunching of the numbers reveals them to be even more jaw-dropping.
When the 32-year-old's four prolific periods of the Ashes - two of them in Brisbane, one in Adelaide and now one in Melbourne - are thrown together, his figures are 18-37 at an average of 2.1 each wicket. The remaining 10 of his wickets in the series have come at an average of 35 apiece.
Johnson is featuring in just his sixth Test of the year, having not made the touring party to England six months ago. But whatever happens from now on - and whether he gets to that that magic 40 mark - this Ashes series will be remembered as his.
Twitter - @ChrisBarrett_