The Mo we won't know
Sport24 columnist Antoinette Muller (File)
There really is nothing quite like a series
against Australia. Forget all the boardroom squabbling just for a second and
focus on the cricket stuff. The thumping
sound of leather on wood and the snarling of bowlers at batsmen, it’s quite
lovely if all the off-field stuff can be put aside.
Australia are fresh off a crushing win over
England, where their visitors seemingly spent their team meetings wondering how
they could perform even worse than in their previous outing. One of the
architects of the demolition job was Mitchell Johnson. Yes, the same Johnson who was ostracised,
mocked and generally the laughing stock of cricket just a few months ago.
Johnson ended the series with 37 wickets,
his left-arm pace clocking 150km/h on the speed gun from time to time.
Although speed guns are about as trustworthy as the ICC calling something
“unanimously”, Johnson was, at times, simply perfect to watch.
For cricket fans, there are few things as
wonderfully enchanting as a fast bowler in full visceral flow, even if he is
Australian. But now things are shifting. Johnson returns to the country where
his Test career was nearly ended in 2011. With three wickets for 255 runs and a
broken toe to show for his lack of efforts, Johnson returned to Australia that
year needing surgery and his career looking on the wane thanks to a poor performance. In hindsight, that break was a
blessing in disguise as Johnson was determined to bounce back and did all the
hard work to make it so.
But now there’s another chapter about to be
added to this book. The man with the moustache has a history against the
He might have been the man responsible for
breaking Graeme Smiths hand many moons ago, but since then, South Africa have
found a way to neutralise him time and time again.
His overall average in South Africa is
34.47 and the last time he visited these shores, he managed just a handful of
wickets. Similarly, when South Africa toured Australia in 2012, he was more
yawn-inducing rather than nerve-wracking.
South Africa know how to put the mockers on Johnson and while he and his
captain might like to talk a big game, things won’t be quite so easy in South
While his fellow bowlers Ryan Harris and Peter
Siddle were both apt in their deputy duties, leading the attack on South
African soil against South Africa’s batsmen is a different kettle of fish.
Conditions will be suitable, sure, but South Africa’s batsmen won’t be quite so
fallible as the limp English.
The pressure is all on Johnson. For all his
squealing gesturing, there is a calm and serene South African in response. But more importantly, he spent most of the
Australian summer not only largely flattered by England's ineptitude, but he
also never once bowled over 26 overs in an innings.
While he might be in the form of his life,
he has rarely had to deal with long spells of sustained pressure during the
Ashes. England’s batsmen rarely put the pressure on the bowlers and it was all
downhill for Mitchell and co for most of the Australian summer.
Now the tables will be turned. How will the
attack cope when Harris inevitably breaks down? How will they cope when Nathan
Lyon is actually played properly and the task of building pressure is
transferred onto the quicks?
Similarly, what then of Australia’s own
fragile batting unit? When the Aussie batsmen let their bowlers down during the
Ashes in England earlier in the year, the bowlers struggled. Although they all
bowled well, the pressure and workload hoisted upon them took its toll both
physically and mentally. With a fired up Dale Steyn, snarling Vernon Philander
and tight-as-thunder Morne Morkel, the Aussie batsmen have a pretty tough time
ahead on South African soil. If the Australian bowlers have no total to bowl
at, how will they deal with such pressure?
Michael Clarke has already said that he
believes his bowling attack is the best in the world. His words have been
echoed by a number of his teammates. it’s already added extra spice to the
contest. A few words exchanged in public
is part and parcel of a South Africa vs Australia clash.
Johnson hasn’t been overly mouthy, but he is certainly full of confidence. Confidence might play a massive role in how a
player performs, but overall, Johnson might very well end up leaving the South
African tour as the Mo Australia won’t know rather than the Mo who couldn’t
stop having a go.
Antoinette Muller is a freelance writer who writes mainly about
soccer and cricket for The Daily Maverick or anybody else who will have
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