Mitchell Johnson pumped up to battle Ben Stokes
Australia's fiery pacer Mitchell Johnson is gearing up for a possible encounter with England’s temperamental all-rounder Ben Stokes.
Stokes got into a tangle with the West Indies players Marlon Samuels in particular during England’s tour of the Caribbean and Johnson had words of appreciation for his rival's aggression.
"Stokes is just playing the game and he's fiery. We like that,” said Johnson to the ABC.
“We like someone who has got a bit of guts and determination.”
The 33-year-old, Johnson, who has the hero of the previous Ashes series back home in Australia, revealed that Stokes had made an impression during the 2013-14 series, among Michael Clarke’s men.
Stokes in his debut series at that time had performed admirably to notch up a century in Perth where he was the lone ranger following it up with a six-wicket haul in the first innings of the Sydney Test.
"We spoke about him throughout the last series.
“He was the only guy who really fought from the England team.
“He also stirred up a few of the West Indians out there recently.”
Johnson also feels that England made a big mistake by not including Stokes for the World Cup campaign this year that eventually ended in disaster for this year’s Ashes host.
While Australians are known for their hard and aggressive brand of cricket, Johnson insists that they had great respect for opponents who reciprocated the same.
"We weren't sure why he wasn't picked in the World Cup squad.
“It's always nice to play against real competitors.
"Virat Kohli is the same.
“He's very competitive on the field and they are nice guys off it.
“People want to see a bit of fire in Test match cricket."
Being the visiting team this time around for the Ashes, Johnson is well aware of the ‘welcome’ he will receive from the English crowds.
However, the left-arm pacer who has declared this to be his final tour of England insists that he isn’t bothered about the verbal volley from the crowds.
"Do I like being cast as the pantomime villain?
“Who likes being sledged every day!
"It's been part of the game and they always seem to target particular players.
“It's been the history of the Ashes and cricket in general.
“I've been targeted all over the world.”
While sledging from the fans is common in cricket particularly when the Australians are involved, Johnson feels that it must not be personal.
The aggressive pacer cited an example from the 2010 Ashes series in Australia as an example when he and his family had gone for an outing.
"I remember in 2010 in Australia I was walking down the street with my wife and copping abuse from about ten English blokes.
“In my own country! That was disappointing because I was with my wife and it was disrespectful.”
While Johnson admits that the incident had a deep impact on him at that point of time, he also insists that he has matured as a person down the years.
Johnson feels that he is better equipped as a person now to deal with such incidents although he feels that they aren’t healthy.
"It was pretty full on and hurt at the time but I've been able to grow from that and those things don't affect me now.
“It's just words and I know where I am as a person.
“If it was a little bit of banter I would have laughed but it went too far and it was crossing the line."
Like every other pacer in the Australian squad right now, Johnson also knows that he is fighting for his place with fierce competition going on for the three spots in the starting XI.
Young pacers Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc have shown immense promise in their brief careers thus far while veteran Ryan Harris has returned from injury which means that Johnson cannot afford to take his spot for granted.
"There are a couple of places available and there is healthy competition going on.
“If ever there was a cloud or question mark over me I just wanted to show I am bowling well and up for it.”
Johnson has pushed his case for selection with a four-wicket haul in the first innings of the tour game against Kent where he bowled with a lot of pace and hostility.
While chances of Johnson featuring in the starting XI for the first Test are high, the mercurial pacer stated that an exclusion will not dampen his spirits.
"I've given myself every opportunity to play in the opening Test.
“If I'm not picked I'll be disappointed but I will make sure I will be ready for the next match and then the next.”
With age catching up on him, Johnson knows that he might not be around for the next Ashes series that will be in 2017/18.
"I'm determined to be involved because this is probably my last Ashes series.
"It would mean a lot to perform to my best and for the team to do the same and win the Ashes here.
“Winning the World Cup was one major goal and now this is another."
Johnson has 23 Test wickets in England at an average of 37.73 – a stat that he will look to improve on during the upcoming Ashes series.
© Cricket World 2015