It may be a phrase he says he regrets now but those were the words of the great Dennis Lillee after discovering a young, raw 16 year old Mitchell Johnson in Far-North Queensland. After watching only three balls, Lillee phoned Rod Marsh and stated:
“I’ve found one.“
The rest is history with the tearaway left-hander finishing his career with 313 Test wickets to his name at an average of 28.40 from 73 matches.
Throughout his career, Johnson was very much an up and down bowler, enduring various exiles from the side after major slumps in form. However, as the fourth highest wicket-taker for Australia in Test cricket and twenty-fifth on the list of all nations along with an Allan Border Medal and being named ICC Cricket of the Year in 2009 and 2014, Johnson’s contribution to Australian cricket will be one that’ll live on and be discussed for many years to come.
It wasn’t until the 2013/14 Ashes series that Australia truly fell in love with the bowler they’d previously loved to hate. Before that series, Johnson bore the brunt of Barmy Army chants and the target of brutal media articles and public criticism with 2010 and 2011 his worst years, statistically. In the latter year, Johnson returned figures of 13 wickets at 56.61 at a strike rate of 92.2. To reflect on possible reasons for such poor form, Ricky Ponting stated in his autobiography that:
“For someone so talented, such a natural cricketer and so gifted an athlete, I found his lack of self-belief astonishing.”
It’s been a common Channel Nine commentary team cliche that when Mitchell Johnson bats well he bowls well, reflecting and re-enforcing the role confidence has played throughout his career with the support of Dennis Lillee integral to his rejuvenation in 2013/14.
It was that 2013/14 season which revealed the true Mitchell Johnson whose barrage of express pace bowling put shivers down the spine of the English top order and silenced the Barmy Army. With 37 wickets at 13.97 Johnson secured the most wickets in an Ashes series by a fast bowler since 1981, barging his way into Ashes folklore.
Johnson followed up such form in South Africa where he tore through the South African batting line-up for 22 wickets across three matches with best figures of 7/68 and 5/59.
However it wasn’t either of these series where, in my view, Johnson enjoyed his best match. It was that WACA Test where he turned the Ashes series on its head after the dominance of England at Brisbane and Adelaide. Johnson’s ability to swing the ball back into the right-hander was particularly evident in the dismissals of Trott, Pietersen, Collingwood and Tremlett in his first innings haul of 6/38 which he followed up with 4/44 in the second innings to win the test match for Australia and put them back into Ashes contention. However such form was not replicated and Australia slumped to an embarrassing Ashes series defeat.
The effect of Johnson upon English cricket was evident in a foxsports.com.au article where various English cricket legends weighed in on his legacy:
“Not many players have had as devastating an impact on the England team than Mitchell Johnson,” “His performances during the whitewash series of 2013-14 changed English cricket both on and off the field. […] Would I want to face him? No. Would I want him in my side? Absolutely!” – Michael Vaughan.
“I have never witnessed a more exhilarating sight than Mitchell Johnson running in to bowl during the 2013-14 Ashes series Down Under,” “It is why you watch cricket; it’s what professional sport at the highest level is all about. […] Cricket is all about entertaining and I don’t think I’ve been more entertained by a bowler than when Johnson was running in. He will certainly be missed by Australia and cricketing fans around the world.” – Nasser Hussain.
“In time though, Johnson would have the last laugh and to his credit he played up to the role of the pantomime villain with England’s most fervent followers and they grew to love him for it.” – Michael Atherton.
“He bowled to the left, he bowled to the right … but when Mitchell Johnson found the target, he was dynamite. “Although he blew hot and cold last summer, England batsmen will be glad to see the back of him. At his most destructive, Johnson was as hostile and unplayable as Jeff Thomson 40 years ago. Well bowled, cobber.” – Mike Walters – Senior Writer at The Mirror.
Some have compared Johnson’s retirement to Graeme Swann by criticising the fact he’s retired mid-series due to a few poor individual matches. In truth however, this decision has been coming since the previous Ashes and Johnson’s time was coming to an abrupt close as his pace began to deteriorate and the dominance of Mitchell Starc became evident meaning Johnson’s decision has effectively allowed a bowler like James Pattinson to re-enter the Australian frame, in a series that cannot be lost. In comparison, Johnson also wasn’t on the other side of the world in a team that was about to suffer a brutal and humiliating series loss.
The name Mitchell Johnson will forever be considered there and abouts with the greats of Australian fast bowling with his 313 Test wickets and imposing figure permanent in the minds of that fruitful English 2013/14 touring party who will always be tormented by that stupid grin and off-putting moustache that was coupled by fiery spells of express short-pitched bowling comparable to none.