Ahead of India’s tour of Australia, the biggest threat for Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his team was none other than the meanest in-form speedster Mitchell Johnson. Knowing the fact that, fast bowlers always trouble Indians whenever they play outside the sub-continent; it was quite evident that the spearhead of Australian bowling attack would ask some tough questions to talented but less experienced young Indian batsmen.
Many cricket pundits also predicted that if the tourists could manage to subdue Johnson’s effect in the four-match Test series, they can give Australia a tough fight in their own backyard.
To an extent, their prediction has been proven right so far in the series. On a batting track at Adelaide, where the opening match took place, the visitors negotiated Johnson fairly well. In the entire match, the Indian middle-order played him cautiously and didn’t throw away their wickets, at least while he was bowling.
As cricket experts had suggested, it was a tight match, which swung both ways throughout the five days. In fact, at one stage on the final day, tourists were in the driving seat and were looking set to win the Test. But eventually, in a close encounter, they lost by 48 runs, courtesy of an outstanding bowling performance by off-spinner Nathan Lyon and some reckless and irresponsible shots by the lower middle-order batsmen.
Due to Johnson's below-par performance in Adelaide, India managed to reach fairly close to a famous win.
Going into the second Test at the Gabba in Brisbane, which is one of the fastest tracks in the world, many predicted that the hero of the return Ashes in 2013-14, would surely get his rhythm back.
However in the first innings, Johnson once again couldn't manage to live up to the high standards he has set for himself. The pacer remained wicketless as India yet again crossed the mark of 400 runs. Heat too took a toll on left-arm bowler, as he looked ordinary throughout the innings.
But the 33-year-old came back with a bang, crucially at a time when his team needed him the most.
On the third day, when Johnson came to bat, his team was in deep trouble at 247 for six and trailing by 161 runs with mere four wickets in hand.
Rohit Sharma welcomed him by passing a needless comment, which was followed by some bouncers by Indian pacers. These were good enough reasons for the southpaw to prove a point and take revenge.
The 32-year-old hit the Indian bowlers all around the ground en route his whirlwind 88-run knock, and in doing so, stitched a crucial partnership of 148 runs with skipper Steven Smith. It helped Australia to take the vital first innings lead of 97 runs. In reply, Indian top order once again looked solid as they ended the day at 71 for 1.
The next morning, Johnson simply proved why he is one of the most dangerous bowlers in world cricket. On the first ball of fourth over of the day, Johnson bowled the in-form Virat Kohli to make his intentions clear. In his next over, he bowled a thunderous delivery which took Ajinkya Rahane by surprise, and he ended up giving a simple catch at backward point.
Johnson didn’t stop there. After a gap of one delivery, he made Rohit his next victim, who again got out for a duck and would have been cursing himself for poking the sleeping bear. The Australian simply ran through the Indian batting line-up to take the game away from the tourists. He turned the match on his head by scalping three wickets in a span of 11 deliveries. In the end, he claimed the wicket of Umesh Yadav to give the home side an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series.
It was a déjà vu moment for the pacer, who produced the same bowling figures of 61 for 4, on the same ground, while playing against England last summer. Interestingly, in that match too, he made a crucial half-century, which was followed up with a match-winning four-wicket haul.
Facts also suggest that wherever Johnson’s willow does the talking, chances remains high that he shines with the ball as well. At Brisbane against India, he proved it once again.
Tough times lie ahead for the tourists, who are already trailing 0-2 in the four-match series as they seem to have woken up the sleeping bear, who is looking set to inflict more damage.
Now, both the teams will lock horns at Boxing Day Test, starting from December 26 at MCG -- a track that has started helping the pacers, of late. It means, Johnson has more than a fair chance to intimidate the Indian batting line up and help the home side clinch the series.