x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Johnson struggles with his celebrity life in the fast lane

While the rain poured at Edgbaston yesterday, Mitchell Johnson sat inside the Australia changing room with his world closing in.

BIRMINGHAM // While the rain poured at Edgbaston yesterday, Mitchell Johnson sat inside the Australia changing room with his world closing in. Caught in the middle of a vicious feud between his mother and Jessica Bratich, his karate champion fiancée, Johnson has had to endure persistent and highly public speculation over his private life.

His mother, Vikki Harber, has not spoken to her son since January after claiming he had been "stolen" from her by celebrity and now glamour model Bratich. The Australian public have been unsympathetic towards the mother in the family squabble, instead holding her responsible for Johnson's failure to repeat the form that had seen him heralded as the country's next big thing. His stirring success with bat and ball in South Africa earlier this year gave some credence to those hailing him as the best all-rounder in world cricket.

An unbeaten century in Cape Town came on the back of a wonderful 96 not out in Johannesburg as Australia avenged their painful home defeat in emphatic style. Spotted as a 17-year-old by the great Dennis Lillee, Johnson was hailed as a "once in a generation" fast bowler. A gangly teenager, Johnson was a keen tennis player and a more than capable javelin thrower when he was finally tempted into cricket.

That decision may have proved the wisest of his career. After impressing during a talent session at the Allan Border Field trials in Brisbane, he was whisked off on the Under-19 tour to England. It proved to be a turning point, not just in his career but in his life, with several of his childhood friends opting to join the army instead of pursuing a living in sport. "If I hadn't gone to that camp I probably would have been in the army," said Johnson.

I've had friends that have gone over to Iraq, have been shot at, and a friend who's a tank driver as well, so they've been in the action and it's pretty scary." Instead of ducking bullets in Iraq, Johnson is now shielding himself from criticism following his laboured performances in the first two Ashes Test matches. The 27-year-old is fully aware of what is expected of him, and says a new aggressive streak has given him an extra edge in his battle to silence his doubters. "It has probably taken me a while for the aggression to come out of me, but when I started to play for Australia it was a different situation with different guys around the team," he said.

"I just remember first coming in, and it was quite daunting - with Glenn McGrath, Ricky Ponting, Justin Langer and Shane Warne, you wonder if you belong in the side. "Now I'm feeling a lot more comfortable and more confident with how I play the game. It's definitely come out in the last few months." One man Johnson is determined to learn from is England talisman Andrew Flintoff, after the burly Lancastrian produced a magical performance in the second Test at Lord's. "I guess to be put in the same bracket as people like Freddie is pretty exciting for me because I never would have thought I would be," said Johnson.

"I think maybe once you keep hearing that name, all-rounder, all the time, it might put a bit more pressure on me, but I think the type of person I am I probably don't let it go to me too much. I just try to keep everything really simple with my batting and bowling and I'll be doing the same thing over here, just trying to improve and do the best I can for the team." sports@thenational.ae