x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Johnson strikes back against England

It was fitting that it was Mitchell Johnson who took the decisive wicket to wrap up the 381-run victory in the First Test as he caught James Anderson off his own bowling.

Mitchell Johnson led Australia's bowlers and cheering section in Australia's win in the First Test at the Gabba Cricket Ground in Brisbane on November 24. Saeed Khan / AFP
Mitchell Johnson led Australia's bowlers and cheering section in Australia's win in the First Test at the Gabba Cricket Ground in Brisbane on November 24. Saeed Khan / AFP

Those who were surprised by Australia winning the first Ashes Test so emphatically should be asking themselves why.

England’s mediocre batting often left them in a perilous situation in the summer Ashes series.

They dodged a number of bullets to come out with competitive scores they should not have been able to reach.

Australia got themselves in a good position, largely thanks to the endeavours of Ryan Harris, but he had no one to back him up. Too often the foot was on the English throat, but no pressure was applied to finish them off.

That was remedied at Brisbane in the first Test as the recalled Mitchell Johnson stepped up.

It was fitting that it was Johnson who took the decisive wicket to wrap up the 381-run victory yesterday, as he caught James Anderson off his own bowling.

That completed figures of five for 42 for the left-armer, and with match figures of nine for 103, as he deservedly took the man-of-the-match award.

It marked the first time since December 2010, also against England, that Johnson, 32, took more than five wickets in a Test.

What has been Johnson’s problem is consistency, both in performance and in delivery.

England fans have mocked him in the past in the form of song for his ability to have one ball go to the left, then the next to the right, but none going near the wickets.

But there was none of that at Brisbane.

What England faced was controlled hostile bowling as his short ball proved too hot to handle.

He had already shone with a half-century with the bat to help rescue Australia from 132 for six in the first innings, along with Brad Haddin, to get the hosts to a score of 295.

That was arguably 100 below par on a decent wicket as Australia’s own inconsistencies with the bat reared their head.

But it did not matter as Johnson took centre stage with the ball.

What was impressive was the accuracy he offered, not giving away cheap runs as he kept applying the pressure, something he had not given Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke’s predecessor as captain, in the last Ashes series in Australia.

The question now is whether Johnson can do this consistently.

He took England apart at Perth three years ago, but was toothless a week later at Melbourne as England hit back to ensure they retained the Ashes in that series.

If Johnson can bowl like this again at Adelaide when the second Test begins on December 5 it will put huge pressure on England’s beleaguered batsmen.

At Brisbane he gave the Australian attack the X-factor it lacked in England.

The bowling line-up of Harris, Johnson, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon was too good for England, and if all-rounder Shane Watson becomes fit enough to bowl at Adelaide then it will only be strengthened farther. England have a history of starting an overseas series badly, and there is talk of taking heart from coming from behind to win in India 12 months ago.

But giving Australia the lead and further self-belief is dangerous, and it will be a tall order for Alastair Cook and his men to regroup in just 11 days at Adelaide.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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