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Will the real Mitchell Johnson please stand up?

Reuters
Nov 01, 2013 at 11:02am IST

Sydney: Desperate times call for desperate measures, and faced with the prospect of a fourth straight Ashes defeat it looks like Australia will once again roll the dice on Mitchell Johnson.

The news that Johnson, ICC Cricketer of the Year in 2009, had been recalled from India to get some red ball practice ahead of this month's first Ashes Test will undoubtedly have been met with broad smiles, not to say guffaws, from England fans.

Whether that schadenfreude is pricked in Brisbane depends very much on which Mitchell Johnson turns up at the Gabba on November 21.

Will the real Mitchell Johnson please stand up?

Johnson, ICC Cricketer of the Year in 2009, had been recalled from India to get some red ball practice ahead of this month's first Ashes Test.

If it is the man with the golden left arm, who gets such pace and swing on the ball that he becomes almost unplayable, England's travelling support could spend five days in the Queensland sunshine wiping metaphorical egg off their faces.

If, however, it is the misfiring bowler whose contribution is more evident in the extras than the wickets column, Brisbane can look forward to the Barmy Army's full repertoire of songs lampooning him.

There are few cricketers more enigmatic than the quietly spoken and introspective Queenslander, who turns 32 on Saturday and has taken 205 wickets in 51 Test at an average of 31.

His fortunes over his Test career have mirrored those of his country -- in his pomp from his debut in 2007 to 2009, with a steady decline and the occasional brilliant performance since.

Johnson took 20 wickets in his first Ashes series in 2009 but there was a hint of what was to come at Lord's, where he gave up 11 boundaries in his first eight overs as England headed towards their first Ashes win at the ground since 1934.

That 2-1 series defeat reduced Johnson to tears and before the 2010-11 Ashes he was full of talk of revenge on the English and having banished his demons.

Such bullish talk from Johnson has never really convinced and it dissipated under a torrent of runs in the first Test, where he finished with figures of 0-170 as England batted for two days to rescue a draw.

Dropped for the innings defeat in the second Test Adelaide, he returned in Perth where he had the sort of impact that explains why the selectors have come back to him time and again.

REBIRTH

Australia had all but given up on the Ashes after England bowled them out for 268 on day one but Johnson was reborn as a Test bowler on day two and skittled England's top order.

Suddenly, the Australian voices in the crowd drowned out the English, the home players were chirping aggressively and English wickets kept tumbling until they were bowled out for 187.

Johnson finished with 6-38, added three more wickets in the second innings and the series was levelled at 1-1. That was the last Ashes Test Australia won.

England pulverised the hosts in the last two Tests to win their first series in Australia for a quarter of a century and earlier this year won 3-0 to retain the urn on home soil.

Johnson missed the latter series but injuries to James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Jackson Bird, as well as some fine form in the one-day series in India, have brought him back into the reckoning for the return.

The "Freo Doctor", an afternoon breeze that cools the WACA ground in Perth, certainly seems to help his bowling.

In fact, even if he is not picked for the first two matches in Brisbane and Adelaide, his Perth stats of 36 wickets at a cost of 19.66 runs each in five Tests provide something of an argument for playing him as a WACA specialist in the third.

As Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle proved in England, despite their recent troubles Australia do not lack for quality quick bowlers.

At his best, though, Johnson's slingshot bowling action creates difficult angles which can unsettle any batsman in the world.

That just might put a bit of fear in the eyes of the English batsmen - something that has happened only rarely in Ashes Tests since the retirement of Glenn McGrath.

"It's so good to see him bowling fast and with swing and scaring the Indians," Harris said on Thursday. "He copped a lot of stick a few years ago, especially over in England.

"And it would be great to bowl in a partnership with him ... and at the end of the series, sit there with a little Ashes urn next to us."

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