Mitchell Johnson Back to His Best Is Good News for Cricket

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Mitchell Johnson Back to His Best Is Good News for Cricket
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Mitchell Johnson took four for 61 to help engineer an England collapse which saw the hosts all out for 136 on the second day of the first Ashes Test. For connoisseurs of fast bowling, his spells were a sight to be behold. 

There is something so enticing about real, threatening pace which cramps batsmen for room and leaves them begging for it all to stop as they desperately try to find ways to protect their fragile frames. Johnson was getting speeds of over 145km/h (90mph) at one stage.

It was poetry in motion and although he did get lucky with dismissing Graeme Swann off a no ball, Johnson was, for the most part, a force of nature.

As a result, everyone from your average cricket fans to former fast bowlers got a bit excited.

Although many believe batsmen are overly dominant in this modern day and age, that is not entirely true. 

In fact, England, for example have managed just two scores of over 400 in Tests this entire year - and those came against new Zealand. Mid 200-scores are common and while much of that has been through batting ineptitude rather than really good bowling, the myth that the game is constantly dominated by batsmen is half-nonsense.

However, when real pace is on show, it enhances Test cricket on many levels. Fast bowling makes those watching purr with excitement, especially when it's no-holds barred kinds of hostile and even the best batsmen in the world have not got a clue to respond.

The battles makes for fascinating subplots and a modern day colosseum battle which is far more entertaining than any kind of hit-and-giggle T20 match with players smashing the ball around everywhere, as if the bowler were meaningless.

Scott Barbour/Getty Images

True fast bowling is an art form and when Johnson is bowling well, he is truly extraordinary. His career has been underscored by what (if you were being kind) you'd call "up and down performances", though, and his latest burst will beg the question yet again: can he keep it up?

When he made his debut in 2007, he took 11 wickets in three Tests, at an average of 26.09. He continued to produce performances adequate enough to make one believe that he has the potential to be one of the legends of the game. Johnson finished both 2008 and 2009 with 63 wickets each year. Although there were wayward spells, he always managed to come back and find his inner pace ace.

But in 2009 things changed—he arrived in England with a fearsome reputation and left as a running joke to the Barmy Army. It took him some time to recover.

In 2010 and 2011 things started going badly more often and his averages were 34.17 and 56.61 in these two years respectively. Hot and cold performances continued to engulf the paceman. When he appeared in the shorter format of the game, people would sit up and think—"Hey, he's bowling alright"—only for a pearler of a delivery to be followed by a wayward load of rubbish.

Scott Barbour/Getty Images

There was something different about Johnson this time around, though. 

Despite a rather average lead up to the Ashes where the standout performance was four for 46 against India during a one-day international in Mohali, Johnson looked like he could be a match-winner for Australia throughout the Ashes. There wasn't all that much in the pitch, but his spell proved that when bowlers find a way to channel raw pace, the pitch hardly matters.

It's early doors and there is a long way to go in the series, but the standard has now been set. Can Johnson keep it up? Well, you'd be a fool to try and forecast that.

All statistics courtesy of Cricinfo's Statsguru tool.

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