India Tour Gives Johnson Ideal Chance to Cement Spot in Australia's Ashes Lineup

Richard MorganContributor IOctober 13, 2013

Smiles better: Johnson celebrates another English scalp during September's ODI series
Smiles better: Johnson celebrates another English scalp during September's ODI seriesClive Mason/Getty Images

Australia begin their seven-match one-day international (ODI) series against India in Pune on Sunday, with paceman Mitchell Johnson hoping to use the limited-overs contests as confirmation of his return to form ahead of the Ashes this winter.

Johnson, who was surprisingly omitted from the tourists’ lineup for their defeat to India in their one-off Twenty20 (T20) match in Rajkot on Thursday, was one of the many bright spots to have emerged from Australia’s recent tour of the UK, despite losing 3-0 to Alastair Cook’s side.

The left-arm bowler was only featured in the final leg of the tour, which was comprised of both the ODI and T20 fixtures after being excluded from the Test party.

His eye-catching form in the limited-overs games raised serious questions as to why the Western Australian had not been selected in the first place for the five-day contests against England.

However, hindsight is a wonderful thing and that is all in the past now for Australia head coach Darren Lehmann, who will instead be keeping a close eye on Johnson over the course of the next three weeks to gauge his readiness for being involved in next month’s eagerly anticipated first Ashes Test in Brisbane.

What Lehmann will be praying for is that the 31-year-old can maintain the electric form we saw from Johnson in the two T20s and the three ODIs in England last month, when he really was the standout bowler on both sides.

What was especially revealing—and from an Aussie point of view, exciting—was the way in which Johnson visibly roughed up not just the lesser-known English batsmen, but the likes of established Test stars such as Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott, with the extreme pace and the hostility of his bowling.

“Midge” was consistently delivering the ball above the 90mph mark, often touching between 93-94mph, on pitches that were not fast or bouncy by any stretch of the imagination and certainly nothing in comparison to the rock-hard surfaces we can expect to see Down Under this winter.

Fast, bouncy, intimidating fast bowling, Johnson appeared to have re found his inner “mongrel” in the freezing late English summer, while it was also clearly noticeable as well that the Queenslander’s bowling arm was now much higher and straighter in his delivery stride, in stark contrast to when he last faced England on their 2010/11 tour of Australia.

All of which makes these next seven 50-over contests with India so critical as far Johnson and Australia are concerned, as the tourists will be desperate for their seamer to maintain the clear and obvious improvements that he made to his game last month, as Lehmann and chairman of selectors John Inverarity slowly finalise their selection plans for the Gabba on Nov 25.

That is why this is such an important three weeks for Johnson. As far as Australia’s bowling lineup is concerned, there is now just one spot still to be filled among the paceman in Brisbane.

Injuries permitting (which in the home side’s case, can never be taken for granted), Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle have already been penciled in for the first Test against England, but with the likes of Mitchell Starc, Darren Pattinson, Jackson Bird and Patrick Cummins all definitely out of the Ashes opener through injury, there still remains one place up for grabs.

Johnson knows that by ruffling a few Indian feathers on the flat, unresponsive dust bowls of the subcontinent, he can all but pencil his name in to take the new ball at his home ground next month, and in the process start to right a few of the wrongs from his own annus horribilis of 2010/11 against the English.