Sydney: Mitchell Johnson is hoping his perspiration in the nets will provide inspiration to Australia’s selectors and earn him a recall for the third Ashes Test against England in Perth this week.
Just two years after he was hailed as the world’s best fast bowler, the 29-year-old spent two weeks pounding away in Adelaide and Perth aiming to prove that he can still bowl with the consistency and technique that earned him the plaudit.
“We’ve got him feeling the way he wants to feel,” Australia bowling coach Troy Cooley told Tuesday’s The Australian. “He’s working his backside off. All he wants to do is play well for his country.”
Johnson’s quiet demeanour has always made him an unlikely inheritor of the mantle of fiery Australian seamers like Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Merv Hughes and Glenn McGrath.
The Queenslander’s super-quick bowling, however, soon made him indispensable to his country after he was handed his baggy green cap by McGrath as Australia’s 398th Test player in late 2007.
A superb display in late 2008 saw him take 8-61 against South Africa at the WACA but it was the following year that he really made his mark as one of the game’s best bowlers.
Having perfected the art of swinging the ball in to right-handed batsmen, Johnson fired Australia to a 2-1 Test series triumph in South Africa.
That earned Johnson player of the series honours and was behind his being named the International Cricket Council’s player of the year for 2009.
By the time he picked up that trophy, however, Johnson’s form had already dipped and he had earned the derision of English fans for some of his bowling as Australia lost the Ashes.
Johnson did claim 20 wickets in the 2009 Ashes series at an average of 32 and went into the current series with a healthy 166 wickets in 39 Tests at 30.08.
The drawn first Test at the Gabba was the first where he failed to take a wicket for Australia and he was unceremoniously dumped for the second.
Although clearly hurt, Johnson had previously experienced ups and downs in his career since being discovered by Lillee as a 17-year-old and dubbed a “once-in-a-lifetime prospect”.
A few years and a string of back injuries later, Johnson was driving a plumber’s van after being dropped by his home state Queensland.
“It’s not the end of the world,” he said in Adelaide after being told he was out of the side. “I’ve come back from stress fractures when I was younger, with Queensland.
“I’m a strike bowler for Australia and I need to be getting wickets,” he added.
Despite his desire to get away and get his “head straight”, Johnson spent the next five days in the nets at the Adelaide Oval -- alongside the tent where the media lunched -- with a few spells as substitute fielder.
If Australia had won or even drawn that Test, Johnson may have been kept waiting for his recall, but an innings and 71 run defeat could see him return this week.
“He’s taken an eight-for here so he has to come back into the reckoning considering it’s a game we have to win,” captain Ricky Ponting said in Perth this week.
“He’s had a chance to get away and sort things out and he has worked exceptionally hard in Adelaide. Hopefully we’ll see some good stuff from him in Perth this week.”
Cooley said Johnson had made progress technically and in his strength and conditioning.
“We’ve worked on making sure his balance at the crease is where he wants it to be,” said Cooley. “His ideal bowling spells were in South Africa and we revisited some of the preparation he did for that.
“We have wound it back and been given the chance to do it again. He looks a lot more balanced at the crease. He’s now getting up over his front leg and producing that arm height you saw in South Africa.
“It is not just a matter of putting your arm up beside your ear. It’s a matter of getting your body balanced.”
The third Ashes Test begins in Perth on Thursday.