Monday 10 March 2014 

A Boss, A War Hero & Mitchell Johnson's Comeback

Mitchell Johnson
Mitchell Johnson is now ranked by many as the world's best fast bowler
© REUTERS / Action Images
 
Mitchell Johnson
He made his international debut in 2005, but struggled after an initial good start
© REUTERS / Action Images
 
Mitchell Johnson
He lost his form during two Ashes defeats in 2009 and then 2010/11
© REUTERS / Action Images
 
Mitchell Johnson
But was back to his best against England and South Africa in 2013 and now this year
© REUTERS / Action Images
 

Mitchell Guy Johnson, now the world's best fast bowler (along with Dale Steyn) and a nightmare for all batsmen has already seen many ups and downs in his nine years of international cricket.

Not many people may know but the start of his career was not that smooth after Dennis Lillee identified him in a fast-bowling clinic in Brisbane at the age of 17 and termed him as a "once-in-nine-lives prospect".

Soon after making his first-class debut in 2001/02 for his native Queensland, he was dropped from the list of contracted players in 2002-03 due to repeated back injuries and a run of poor form.

He was a good tennis player during his childhood and it was learnt that serving has contributed to the back problems that haunted him throughout his cricketing career.

Having lost his contract, he started working as a plumbing van delivery driver under his boss Brett Mortimer, also his Northern Suburbs cricket coach.

Mortimer has played an important part in his life and lots of praise should go to him as well for what Johnson has subsequently achieved. During that period, not only did Brett persuade him from returning to his hometown Townsville but also encouraged him to play club cricket in Brisbane as a pure batsman where he scored a couple of centuries to get his confidence back.

Things started looking good for him once again and after a couple of good domestic seasons, he was picked for the Australia 'A' tour to Pakistan in September 2005 and went on to make his One-Day International debut three months later against New Zealand.

His consistently good performances at ODI level was enough to earn him a Test call-up and he subsequently made his debut on 8th November 2007 against Sri Lanka at his home ground in Brisbane.

The Initial years of his Test career were quite good but not spectacular. Between November 2007 and the end of 2009, he played 30 Test matches and claimed 137 victims including the very rewarding tour of South Africa in early 2009 where he won the man-of-the-series award for claiming 16 wickets in three games as Australia won 2-1.

He was intimidating, fast, furious and aggressive and that caught the eye of everyone.

During the 2010-11 Ashes series in Australia, though he claimed 15 wickets in four Tests (including nine in the third Test), he was very wayward during fourth & fifth Tests and that resulted in the famous chants the Barmy Army sang whenever he came to bowl.

"He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right, that Mitchell Johnson, his bowling is sh**e". That jibe from the fans had really dented his confidence and Johnson acknowledged that following the series.

From the start of 2010 until August 2013, Johnson went through a lean spell where he played only 21 Tests and took 68 wickets. Not even close to his best, he miles away from proving himself as a "once-in-nine-lives prospect" as once declared by Lillee.

His confidence was shattered after a spate of poor form, serious injuries (including a toe fracture that kept him out for seven months) and heavy criticism from the media.

Yet, during this difficult time, Johnson met Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith (a recipient of the esteemed Victoria Cross for Australia) who taught him life lessons that helped him switch from being a vulnerable player to a fearsome strike bowler.

Corporal Roberts-Smith briefed the bowler on how to prioritise the important things in life, how to shut off the negativity from his mind. He also stressed that there are no excuses for not getting a job done.

Roberts-Smith even took the struggling batsman to his training barracks, where he was given a hands-on experience of life in the army.

There are other factors that helped Johnson turn things round, such as going back to the MRF Pace Academy and working with Lillee, but the time when he was away from cricket had actually helped him the most and that was the time when he met Ben Roberts-Smith who showed the way to push forward and never stop trying in life.

Since then, Johnson has pushed forward and made great strides. The numbers stack up: Eight Tests, 59 victims and a bunch of rattled batsmen since the start of the 2013-14 Ashes series.

© Cricket World 2014

More from Cricket World