Mitchell Johnson is Peaking, Team India Beware

Updated: 02 January 2015 20:23 IST

Mitchell Johnson has been far from his best in the four-Test series versus India but he is slowly getting back on track. Can a combative India take him on during the final Test at the SCG?

Mitchell Johnson is Peaking, Team India Beware
India have reason to start fearing Johnson again. © AP

Mitchell Johnson, Australia's wrecker-in-chief during the Ashes, will be keen to leave his mark on the final Test match against India in Sydney next week. In what will be an emotional Test match for the hosts, following Phillip Hughes' tragic death at the SCG, Johnson is expected to let himself loose on Virat Kohli's India.

Johnson, the strapping left-arm pacer, looked far from his best in the first Test at Adelaide. In the 22 overs Johnson sent down in the first innings, he conceded 102 runs and managed two wickets. The only time he looked menacing was when he struck Kohli on the head with a bouncer. In India's second knock, Johnson returned better figures of 2/45 but did not necessarily look the man with the killer arm. (Vivian Richards Backs Aggressive Virat Kohli)

The second Test at the Gabba was no better. Johnson was carted around for 81 run in 21 futile overs. And then Rohit Sharma sledged him, asking him about his wicket tally. That was just the spark Johnson needed - a verbal volley to spur him on. He responded with a brutal 93-ball 88 and then destroyed the Indian middle-order with 4/61 as the tourists crumbled to their second straight defeat.

The Boxing Day Test saw Johnson making the news for the wrong reasons. He and arch-rival Kohli were involved in squabbles that often assumed ugly proportions. If Brisbane was the appetizer, the main course should come at Sydney. ('Kohli Represents New Age India')

In the 2013/14 Ashes, Johnson had bounced England out with 37 wickets from five Tests as Australia romped to a 5-0 whitewash. He bowled with fire and bounce, dismantling what had till then looked like, a strong English batting order.

He may not have looked anywhere as deadly one year later against a more combative India, but Johnson is beginning to peak. After looking a pale shadow of his self, the 33-year Aussie pace ace has rediscovered his mojo. (Dhoni Wasn't Doing Justice to Himself: Shastri)

India have reason to fear Johnson again. Barring Kohli, Murali Vijay and to some extent Ajinkya Rahane, the others have looked distinctly uncomfortable against his searing pace. His figures of 3/135 in India's first innings at Melbourne look ordinary, but it was largely due to that mammoth 262-run stand between Kohli and Rahane. Johnson generated good pace on a flat track in the second essay, removing Lokesh Rahul and a clueless Cheteshwar Pujara.

There could be several reasons why Johnson has not been as effective against the Indians. For starters, some of their top order batsmen have not been afraid to take him on and the pitches have not been as bouncy as he would have liked. Besides, it appears Steve Smith, the new captain, has overused Johnson.

Under Michael Clarke, Johnson by his own admission, was used to bowling shorter bursts, stay fresh and come back for another assault on hapless batsmen. At the SCG, that is precisely what he plans to do.

Johnson said: "I've been bowling longer spells. That's been at the back of my mind where I know I'm going to be bowling four, five, six over spells that I can't be flat out every ball. It has dropped off a little bit. It's been a big 15 months as well so it's tough cricket.

"We go out there day in and day out and we work really hard and to be able to bowl 150 every game I'd be dreaming if I could do that. But I'd like to be going back to bowling shorter spells again. Hopefully I can do that in this Test. At the moment I'm just doing what the team needs me to do and that's bowling those longer spells."

In Sydney, after England had been bruised and demoralised, Johnson came back on the New Year and hit them hard again. He picked up 6/73 in the match to finish Alastair Cook's men off. There was plenty of fire in him that series, a fire to get hold of the urn again.

This time, the fire has been stoked by the Indians who have sledged and batted really well. Australia have won the series but there is a still a lot at stake for them - most had predicted it would be a 4-0 whitewash for the hosts. Can Johnson make it 3-0 or will Kohli lead an Indian revival?

Topics : India Australia Mitchell Johnson Virat Kohli India in Australia Series, 2014-15 Cricket
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