AFTER often holding his place in Australia's Test teams in recent years when public opinion demanded he should not, Mitch Johnson now has to contend with a different selection hassle: getting dropped when he did not deserve to.
The left-armer rebutted criticism of his inclusion for the recent Perth Test against South Africa by being Australia's best bowler, albeit not the most rewarded in wickets. He also saved Australia from even more punishment by the Proteas by taking five catches, two of them remarkable return catches.
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Johnson unlucky to miss out says Clarke
Australian captain Michael Clarke says paceman Mitch Johnson was unlucky to miss selection for the first Test against Sri Lanka in Hobart.
Johnson's slide from being a walk-up start for Australia was reinforced by the selection for the series-opener against Sri Lanka starting on Friday. Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus were instead treated as the first-choice pacemen.
Fellow left-armer Mitch Starc was also preferred to Johnson, the former mainstay of the pace-attack. Starc was Australia's most expensive bowler in Perth but triumphed through a combination of his performance against the Proteas (8-209 and a bludegoning 68 not out), his age (he is nine years younger than Johnson) and his next-in-line status for much of the year (he has been in every national-team squad).
Captain and selector Michael Clarke acknowledged the "tough" call on Johnson to drop him but maintained it was "a nice problem to have".
"Mitch would feel unlucky, there's no doubt about it," Clarke said.
"I think 'Sidds' [Peter Siddle] and 'Hilf' [Ben Hilfenhaus] deservedly come back into the team, being two guys who've performed very well over the past 12 months for us ... and 'Starky' [Starc] has been in the queue for a long time, the past eight to 12 months, and we thought he bowled really well in the Test match in Perth, as did Mitchell Johnson."
Johnson, 31, has spoken frankly in the past about his battles with self-confidence. Clarke, however, suggested that was not taken into account when deciding which paceman would miss the Hobart Test once off-spinner Nathan Lyon's retention was assured.
"You've got to do what's best for the Australian team, you've got to win the best 11 players to win a Test match. For this Test match this is the 11 we've gone for," he said.
"Mitch will be fine. He'll continue to work his backside off and wait for his next opportunity, and try and grab it with both hands once again."
Former Tasmanian paceman Adam Griffith is better placed than most to give an insight into Johnson's personal and professional traits, from being part of the same cricket-academy intake in Adelaide more than a decade ago to of late being his primary domestic coach, as bowling coach and assistant coach for Western Australia.
Griffith said he was confident Johnson would not be embittered by the "harsh" call to drop him for the Bellerive Oval Test against Sri Lanka.
"I think he got back [to Tests] a bit sooner than what he maybe anticipated. That's maybe another thing that, then even though he's been left out [of the team] he knows he's in the mix now and that he bowled well against South Africa here in Perth," Griffith said. "He knows now he's back to somewhere near his best. Whenever he has that moment of self-doubt hopefully he just reverts how he [has been this season] when he’s bowling well."
As well as minor remedial tweaks such as lengthening the left-armer's run-up, Griffith said one of the main changes he and Johnson had sought to implement had been mental: shedding his habit of dwelling on mistakes or missed opportunities, and instead focusing on continual improvement.
"If he can take that mentality into what he’s doing now, and not dwell on being dropped but 'What do I have to do to get back into the team?', which he's shown with us [at Western Australia], it'll prove he's a stronger player. That'll keep him in good stead of staying positive and, hopefully, getting back into the side."
While Griffith's intense tuition of Johnson has only been occurring for about the past 18 months he reckoned Johnson was now better prepared to cope with being dropped with little cause than he would have been in the not-too-distant past.
"From the work he's done and the great strides personally I think he’s made over the past 12 months I would hope that that would be the case. I'd back him in now to stay positive, be good around the group and force his way back in."