Feared 'MJ' unpredictable to the end

2015-11-17 13:00
Mitchell Johnson (Getty)

Perth - Mitchell Johnson was a figure of fun before he became the most feared cricketer on the planet, in a roller coaster of a career that remained unpredictable to the end.

The strapping fast bowler with the handlebar moustache was the butt of relentless teasing by English fans before he hit back in stunning style in the 2013-2014 Ashes.

If his frightening form in that series, which traumatised English batsman and inspired a 5-0 win, was unexpected, so was his sudden departure from the Test scene.

Johnson, 34, had signalled retirement was in his thoughts but his eventual announcement, on the last day of the second Test against New Zealand with one game to go, came as a surprise.

Australia are 1-0 up in the three-match series and the final game will be historic -- the first ever day-night Test, starting next week in Adelaide.

Johnson has also retired from all forms of international cricket, rather than stepping away from Tests first and then limited-overs, as is often the protocol.

"I've given the decision a lot of thought," said Johnson. "Beyond this match, I'm just not sure that I can continue competing consistently at the level required to wear the baggy green."

The raw kid from outback Queensland was identified as a star in the making as early as his teens by Dennis Lillee, who called him a "once in a lifetime" talent.

A series of back stress fractures almost ended his career before it started, and he famously drove a plumbing van after losing his Queensland contract before he came good and made his Test debut in 2007, aged 26.

Johnson announced himself on December 18, 2008, in a fiery performance against South Africa in Perth, taking seven wickets for only 12 runs - including 5-2 near the close.

'MJ' was also devastating against South Africa in Durban in 2009 but he had a forgettable Ashes series later that year, finishing with 200-3 at Lord's.

Johnson's unorthodox technique and sheer pace could make his bowling a lottery, inspiring the taunting chant of "He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right" as Australia crashed at home in the 2010-2011 Ashes.

But on his day, he was unplayable - as at Perth in 2010, when his 6-38 against England inspired Australia's only win of the series.

Off-field stability was also hard to find, with widespread reports of a rift between Johnson's mother and his wife-to-be, former model and karate black belt Jessica Bratich, early in his Test career.

A broken toe in 2011 gave him vital time to reflect but it wasn't until he returned to the Test squad, after an eight-month absence, for the 2013-2014 Ashes that Johnson's true potential was fulfilled.

Wearing a Lillee-style moustache, he tore through a quivering England line-up at Brisbane's Gabba ground, taking nine wickets as the tourists collapsed.

"Lunch? No thanks. I was sitting there, thinking: I could die here in the fucking Gabbattoir," England's Kevin Pietersen later wrote in his autobiography.

Johnson didn't stop there and he finished with 37 wickets and was named man of the series as Australia crushed their old enemy 5-0.

In South Africa later in 2014, Johnson took 22 wickets in three Tests - breaking Ryan McLaren's arm on the way to taking 12 wickets in the first Test at Centurion.

Johnson's form ebbed by the 2015 Ashes in England and by the time New Zealand arrived for the current series, he was already considering pulling stumps on his career.

He is the only man other than Ricky Ponting to be named world player of the year twice, in 2009 and 2014, and finished with 313 wickets in 73 Tests, behind only Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Lillee among Australian bowlers.

"My career has certainly had its ups and downs but I can honestly say I have given it my all and am proud of everything I have achieved," Johnson said in Perth.

Read more on:    australia  |  mitchell johnson  |  cricket

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