Elder statesman Johnson returns, this time as the complete package
Reborn ... Mitchell Johnson. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
NOT so long ago Mitchell Johnson's international future looked about as rosy as the demolished Bradman, Messenger and Noble Stands at the northern end of the SCG. On Thursday, he not only chalks up 50 Tests but also officially begins the next phase of his Test career: as an all-rounder.
Fresh from intimidating and incapacitating Sri Lanka in Melbourne with the ball, and starring with the bat, Johnson will figure at No.7 in a remodelled Australian team coping with the absence of vice-captain Shane Watson and, on a green pitch, planning to play four fast bowlers and off-spinner Nathan Lyon.
This time last year the now 31-year-old was sidelined indefinitely with a freak foot injury that did Australian selectors a favour. He was travelling so poorly he would almost certainly have been dropped after the tour of South Africa in November 2011 had a mysterious piece of metal not been found in his big toe. Johnson argues the injury did him a favour, too.
Two matches into his second coming and the left-arm quick - who took the new ball at the MCG, and is joined by Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle and Jackson Bird in the line-up in Sydney - is all of a sudden not just the team's most in-form bowler but increasingly being regarded by some as a serious all-rounder. Only a lack of partners denied Johnson a second Test century in Melbourne, where he was left stranded on 92, and he declared afterwards he could become a genuine all-rounder.
As Watson contemplates quitting bowling to preserve his fragile body, a multi-skilled and experienced Johnson is well on the way to making the circle from Test oblivion to being permanently in the picture. When Michael Hussey retires, Johnson will also become the second most-capped player in the side, behind only captain Michael Clarke.
''I've always known how much talent he's had either with the bat or the ball,'' Clarke said. ''He's one of the greatest athletes I've seen play cricket. Give him a footy, try and beat him in a race - he's a very good athlete. I think Mitch's time away from the game freshened his body and also freshened his mind. He's as hungry as he's ever been. He feels like he's back bowling and batting very well.
''I think he knows in this group now he's a senior player and has a lot of responsibility … He needs to perform like a senior player, like he has since coming back into the team. I think Mitch is probably enjoying a leadership role around the group.''
In the form of his life, the rejuvenated quick can guarantee himself a spot on Australia's next Test tour, in India in February and March, with another dominant display in the third Test against Sri Lanka. Past performances in India, including the 5-64 he took in Mohali in 2010, would indicate he is locked in already.
''He's back in good form but if you ask Mitch I'm sure he'd say he can get better,'' Clarke said. ''His experience around the ground is crucial and his attitude is fantastic. We left him out in Hobart and he had the right attitude. He made it clear he wanted to be back full-time playing for Australia in all forms of the game. If that means he has to miss a game every now and then to get himself selected more regularly then he's happy to fight for that position.
''He's fit and strong … He can bowl long spells for you, which is certainly a bonus, and he's played in India … We'll wait and see when selection comes around for the Indian tour but if he's bowling the way he is I see no reason why he won't be on that tour.''
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