A study in the art of fast bowling and captaincy

He has shown the menacing influence fast bowling has on a cricket match. Irrespective of the conditions, a bowler of his ilk can threaten any batsman. Sadly, bowlers of his ilk are rare to come by, which is what makes Mitchell Johnson a greater hazard for the opposition. In practice sessions, it’s hard to replicate what Johnson does. Steyn and Morkel bowl fast too. But not as fast nor are they as life-threatening as Johnson. A bowling machine doesn’t provide the angle of his round arm action. Nor does it replicate the death stare from him, nor the moustache, nor the variety in deliveries. 

Johnson still does spray the ball around. Though his control has improved a great deal, there are moments in which the old Johnson appears. For my mind, this certain lack of control is actually what gets him wickets. 

Batsmen don’t know what to expect, which doesn’t give them the extra split second to conquer the incoming red grenade. Thus while he is in the midst of a violent spell, batsmen are waiting for his head high thunderbolts. At the pace Johnson bowls, the mind is constantly challenged. Reflexes are tested. More importantly, one’s natural instinct cannot be trusted. At 150+kmph, a loose ball isn’t necessarily a loose ball. Batsmen try and flash at balls outside the off without moving their feet. The cut shot or the drive becomes more a shot in relief rather than a controlled stroke. 

Earlier, Johnson’s distribution of deliveries favoured the drivel side of the graph. Now he bowls more balls in the right areas. Because of this, the wide half volley or short deliveries (all bowled at 145+kmph) are effective wicket taking tools. Sometimes these deliveries might not be intentional. Either way, Johnson seems to have found the perfect proportion of good and apparently loose deliveries. 

His pace is quite obviously the separating factor. He is fast and he knows it. He is aggressive and doesn’t mind getting up in a batsman’s grill. As much as Johnson seems to have matured physically as a fast bowler, he seems have done so mentally too. Brains, brawn and the skill to execute plans are what South Africa had to tackle while facing him. 

Dennis Lille and not Nita Ambani seems to have been credited for the resurgence of MJ. On the field however, Michael Clarke deserves the plaudits. His field placing has been impeccable and ingenious. He has rotated his bowlers and made Johnson bowl either short bursts or long spells depending on the situation. 

In the first inning of the first Test, Johnson began with a 4 over spell and took 3 wickets. Then as soon as Amla was dismissed, Clarke brought Johnson back in the 14th over. Johnson bowled 6 overs in that spell trying to prise out AB de Villiers. Before the close of play on Day 1, Clarke made Johnson bowl a 3 over spell, in which he picked up one wicket. Clarke also began Day 2 with Mitch; another 3 over spell, another wicket. 

In the second inning, Johnson was made to bowl spells of 4 overs, 5 overs and a 7 over spell. Johnson picked up 3 wickets in the 7 over spell. It was Michael Clarke’s attempt to close out the match. It worked. 

Whatever the situation of the game, Johnson bowled his spells with a short leg, slips and a deep fine. Clarke allowed him to bowl the way he wanted and offered him the support for the same. 

If Mitch Johnson has been a study in the art of fast bowling, Michael Clarke has been one in the art of captaincy. 

Johnson’s bowling strength and wickets per innings are much better than the other bowlers in the list below. Compared to Steyn, Mitchell Johnson has played 4 innings fewer and is just 1 wicket behind.

Top 10 Wicket Takers in Tests (since 1st Jan 2013 to 6th Mar 2014)


Bowling Strength
Wickets per innings
S Broad 28 512 1722 66 26.09 3.36 46.5 38.33
D Steyn 24 447.1 1218 63 19.33 2.72 42.5 51.73
M Johnson 20 361.5 1051 62 16.95 2.9 35 59.00
T Boult 25 512.2 1424 56 25.42 2.77 54.8 39.34
R Harris 24 444.4 1213 56 21.66 2.72 47.6 46.17
J Anderson 29 567.5 1768 55 32.14 3.11 61.9 31.11
N Lyon 30 579.4 1868 53 35.24 3.22 65.6 28.38
P Siddle 32 571.1 1589 50 31.78 2.78 68.5 31.47
S Ajmal 18 541 1336 47 28.42 2.46 69 35.19
T Southee 19 411.3 1160 47 24.68 2.81 52.5 40.52


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