x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Big-hitting Johnson to rescue

Australia are given a Caribbean scare, but the bowler hits a quick-fire 73 as Ponting's men recover from stuttering start to seal victory.

Australia's Mitchell Johnson hits the West Indies' bowler Daren Sammy for six during their Champions Trophy match at the Wanderers.
Australia's Mitchell Johnson hits the West Indies' bowler Daren Sammy for six during their Champions Trophy match at the Wanderers.

Australia dodged a bullet at The Wanderers as they edged past West Indies by a misleadingly comfortable margin of 50 runs in a re-match of the last Champions Trophy final. The cast had changed markedly for both sides since that day in Mumbai three years ago.

Australia can no longer call on the likes of Adam Gilchrist and Glen McGrath, while the West Indian side is unrecognisable from as recently as six months ago due to a contract dispute between the board and senior players. Mitchell Johnson, who was just starting out in the international game back then, was the difference between the sides this time, but not via the expected means. The Queensland quick is the leading wicket-taker in one-day international cricket this year, but it was his batting exploits that proved decisive in Johannesburg as Australia got off to unimpressive start. His sparkling 73 not out, from a mere 47 balls, revived a tired Australian effort with the bat and ultimately took the game beyond Floyd Reifer's inexperienced side.

"I think the guys did well at the top of the order in difficult circumstances, then I come in late and take all the glory," a modest Johnson said. The troubled West Indians were afforded a modicum of optimism when Kemar Roach, the young Bajan pace prospect, sent back Shane Watson with the opening delivery of the match. Buoyed by the early success, the Caribbean side asserted a semblance of control over their vaunted opponents, even if Ricky Ponting contributed with 79.

As they stuttered to 164 for six by the time Johnson arrived at the wicket in the 36th over, it was debatable whether the Australians would even bat out their quota of 50 overs, but they eventually made 275 for eight. Johnson really fuelled the charge when he struck back to back sixes in the first over of Darren Sammy. The St Lucian all-rounder is the only player in this West Indies side who would realistically hold down a place in the regular side, if not for the contract rebellion.

He had conceded a thrifty 19 runs from his first eight overs, but haemorrhaged 35 from the final two as Johnson made merry. Until then, the alliance of Sammy, with his military medium pace, and Nikita Miller, the left-arm spinner, had proved the under- valued merits of taking pace off the ball in one-day cricket. Bearing in mind this West Indies side - which is deemed by most to be their third string - were supposed to be lambs to the slaughter for an Australia side, seeded one coming into the competition, Miller's effort was magnificent.

The Jamaican slow-bowler's spell of two for 24 in 10 overs included the prize wickets of Ponting and the in-form Cameron White. Even though his good work was undone by Johnson's late-order blitz, the underdogs were always within range during their chase. Sammy handed out a tit-for-tat revenge on Johnson, who he slogged for consecutive maximums to keep hopes of an upset alive, but as the run-rate grew, their inexperienced challenge faltered.

That the strong bowling line-up of the Kangaroos conceded 36 extras underlined their lacklustre display. pradley@thenational.ae