When Australian players line up to take the cricket field these days, there is this sense of adventure tourism. Facing Mitchell Johnson in the form of his life is nothing but an adventure, laced with that primal emotion called fear. One has seen Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson on YouTube and watched clippings of Andy Roberts and Michael Holding in their prime, but since then, cricket lovers have largely been subjected to a diet of medium and fast-medium bowling with the cliche, ‘hitting the right areas’, dominating commentary boxes across the globe. Of course, there was Waqar Younis and, later, Brett Lee, with their extreme pace, challenging the stumps and the outside edge of batsmen, but
Johnson is offering a different package altogether.
Johnson running into bowl has become a spectacle, a great event in itself. In recent history, no spell from a bowler has been looked forward to with so much excitement. So what has he done to transform himself? The fast bowler has been around for a few years, but he was never this convincing and consistent as a bowler. He was often dismissed as a slinger, more unpredictable than English weather. His guru Dennis Lillee has clearly worked on Johnson’s run-up and action, and the bowler is able to get more bounce now from a disconcerting length. He has broken two bats this season—yes, you read that right. A batsman has been hospitalised and English cricket is in disarray; not to mention the mental scars on those who are still playing and facing him.
As everyone knows, cricket is played with a hard ball. It can hurt you in the wrong places. When a bowler is operating at 130-135 kmph, moving into line and playing it on its merit is an easy act for any international batsman. But when the speed moves up to 150 kmph and the ball kicks up from a length to around the throat, cricket becomes another game. Not only is one worried about getting out, but getting injured becomes a real possibility as well. For far too long now, international batsmen have had it easy, playing on feather beds and taking on medium pacers. You know that the bowler is unlikely to go down the leg-side or bowl too straight. He is mostly bowling at the imaginary 4th or 5th stump and bowling just short of length. It had become all too predictable.