Bouncer the key in India: Johnson
With Australia’s fast bowling cupboard bristling with youthful energy, 31 years and 50 Tests old Mitchell Johnson must feel like a veteran. The left-arm pacer, who played his early cricket for Australia under the tutelage of Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie, and graduated as his team’s premier pacer in the presence of Brett Lee, now finds himself as a senior statesman for the young Australian fast bowlers to look up to.
When speaking about his changed position in the ranks of Australian bowling, Johnson went into the nostalgic mode and remembered all those Australian fast men who helped him through his cricketing infancy.
“It was a great privilege for to play with some brilliant fast bowlers,” Johnson said ahead of the first Test against India, in Chennai. “When I started out for Queensland, I had Andy Bichel, Michael Kasprovicz, Ashley Noffke and other guys.
“Getting into the Australian team, I worked with the likes of Jason Gillespie and Glenn McGrath. I have been privileged to be able to have people like those to look at for advice,” he said.
Johnson, who is the most experienced bowler in Australia’s current Test squad, realises his responsibility and is enjoying his role of guiding his younger team-mates through this transitional phase.
“We have a lot of young guys in the team now as the team has changed a lot. Now we have guys like James Pattinson, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc. It won’t be fair to compare them to the previous pacers but the bunch that we do have now is very exciting.
“We’ve worked a fair bit with them as we’ve had guys coming for a little while on tours to see how the group operates,” he said.
As Johnson gears up to lead the Aussie bowling attack on the Indian soil, he expects the assistance of his big-hearted fellow pacer, Peter Siddle. He hopes to build a strong partnership with Siddle to guide the young Australian team to a series win in India.
“Siddle has had a great summer and has played a lot before that too. He really knows his game now and his experience on a tour like this is much needed. When these young guys played the warm-up matches, it was a whole new experience for them. Hopefully myself and Siddle can help them along,” Johnson said.
While his helping the young pacers evolve is Johnson’s obvious role, he believes it doesn’t end there.
“I know the responsibility is to help these guys as much as I can. But it’s also about helping the team on the whole,” Johnson said.
“I spoke to Nathan Lyon the other day. He’s a spin bowler. He just wanted to have a chat about the mental side of things. To be able to sit down and pass on whatever experience I’ve had was great and he said it definitely helped him.
“That’s what it’s all about – helping each other in whatever way we can. That’s what McGrath and the other seniors did for me. It’s my turn to do that now for the youngsters coming in. I really enjoy that,” Johnson said.
Of all the buzzing fast bowlers in his country, Johnson is particularly excited about working with his fellow left-arm-seamer, Mitchell Starc.
“Starc is someone I really enjoy playing with. Being a left-armer it’s always nice to have another one. I had the opportunity of working with Nathan Bracken and now to have Starc is great. We can bounce things off each other because we think differently than a right-hander,” Johnson said.
For the likes of Starc, who is on his first Test tour to India, Johnson has a simple game-plan of bowling in India.
“I’ve always believed that variations are a must in India; a bit of change in pace. Also, here it does come down to the conditions in the end. So, one thing I’d tell him [Starc] is to assess the conditions, see what sort of bounce he can get off the wicket.”
Johnson said the importance of a bouncer cannot be undermined on the batsmen friendly Indian tracks. “I think one key thing here is to bowl a good short ball and it’s something that we’ve all spoken about and we all bowled a few today in the nets to get practice.
“Bouncer is a ball you need to bowl irrespective of the conditions as it fiddles with the mind of the batsman. Especially on flat wickets like the ones here it can be very easy for the batsmen to drive you if you’ll bowl knee-high balls all day.
“So, you need to mix things up and I think bowling that aggressive short ball definitely helps. We saw that during the practice games. With the second new ball, I bowled more bouncers and it messed with the head of the batsmen and we looked more like picking wickets.
“I think the lengths change a bit – back home we bowl fuller as there’s bounce off the pitch whereas here you pitch it just a bit back of a length. Here it’s important to work with the guys at mid-on and mid-off. Siddle and myself have that experience. We need to go to these young bowlers and guide them in certain situations,” he said.
While the advice and guidance is necessary for the youngsters, Johnson also believes there are certain things that only experience can teach.
“It’s also important for them to learn from their own experiences. Even though I had people like McGrath and Brett Lee, I had to learn to stand on my own. Things will not always go your way but as long as you learn from that experience, you’ll move forward.”