"I think I can still be a leader with my experience" ... Mitchell Johnson. Photo: Getty Images
RECALLED Mitchell Johnson claims he can be the fast bowling leader Australia may be in dire need of in Perth, with the hosts contemplating entering Friday's third Test without frontline pacemen Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus, as well as the injured James Pattinson.
A veteran of 47 Tests, during which he took 190 wickets, the 31-year-old left-armer is back in a Test squad for the first time in a year. A serious foot injury put his career on hiatus after Australia's drawn tour of South Africa last November but in truth Johnson, lacking in control and confidence, was already facing probable omission.
Beset with question marks over his reliability and consistency, he went back to the drawing board after regaining fitness, working closely with the legendary Dennis Lillee, and in a way, re-learning his craft, via the Sheffield Shield and Australia A and limited-overs tours of England in the winter.
Now, with an exhausted Siddle in doubt to play at the WACA Ground after his prodigious output in Adelaide, and Hilfenhaus no certainty either after working his own backside off in the dramatic draw, Australia could roll out a brand new pace attack.
Australia's coach Mickey Arthur says it is conceivable that both could sit out the deciding contest against South Africa despite its importance - Australia, should they win, would return to the top of the world rankings - and in their potential absence Johnson's track record could be key.
''I think I can still be a leader with my experience,'' he said. ''I'm 31, I've played a few Tests and one-dayers and I've got that experience. I was recently named vice-captain for WA which was really exciting for me. It's been just over 12 months now, so I'm looking forward to getting back in there and training hard with the boys and hopefully keep pressing my claims.
''I never gave up hope. I guess for me this injury that came to me was a blessing in disguise. I was able to work on a lot of things, just getting back into Shield cricket as well has been really exciting for me, just to work on my game, get away from all the media, all the public and just go out there and play my cricket.''
Johnson is one of two left-arm quicks, along with Mitchell Starc, in a 14-man squad for Perth that features six seamers; the others being Josh Hazlewood and John Hastings. The younger Starc, Australia's 12th man in Brisbane and Adelaide, has until now been ahead of him in selectors' minds but Johnson's rich record in Perth will count in his favour.
Two summers ago he starred in Australia's only bright spot of a dismal Ashes campaign, taking 6-33 and nine wickets for the match in a solitary victory over England, and two years earlier claimed 11 including a first-innings haul of 8-61 against South Africa.
''The past is the past,'' Johnson said. ''Obviously memories like that are why you play the game. I can sit back when I finish my career and look at those moments where I've done well and really sort of enjoy it, have a beer and talk about it with my mates. But I don't think you can live off those past performances.''
Johnson credits Lillee with steering his career back on course so it will be fitting if he does make Australia's short list at his home ground and where Lillee is president.
''It's nice to have his support, and him backing me all the way,'' Johnson said of the legendary fast bowler.
■ The Sheffield Shield's reigning player of the year and leading wicket-taker Jackson Bird admits to a pang of disappointment at missing out on Australia's squad for the third Test against South Africa.
Bird was named man of the match in Tasmania's crushing win over Western Australia at Bellerive following his devastating 6-25 in the Warriors' first dig of 67.
''If I can keep putting performances like I have this week on the board I can't be too far away,'' he said of his Test chances.