EVEN South African kids have been taken by Mitchell Johnson.
Johnson winds up with that distinctive slingy action of his and is about to unleash a thunderbolt. Source: Getty Images
He has become an instant cult hero in South Africa, with local youngsters wearing copies of his marauding moustache and attempting to get close to him when he was fielding on the fence.
While their bruised and battered cricket team may disagree, these children have been privileged to witness one of the great moments in cricket, a genuinely terrifying fast bowler at the peak of his powers.
No one under 40 has seen an Australian fast bowler as dangerous and damaging as Johnson during this last, spectacular three months.
In six Tests since returning to the national side, Johnson, 32, has claimed a staggering 49 wickets at an average of just 13 apiece with a strike rate of just 27 balls per wicket, half what any good fast bowler would be happy with.
But the figures are only half the story. It is the terrifying nature of Johnson’s bowling, the constant fear factor of what may happen next, which has made Johnson so imposing, as he has scared batsmen physically and mentally.
Not since Jeff Thomson at his peak in the mid ‘70s has Australia had a bowler so dramatic and dangerous.
The world may never have seen a faster bowler than Thomson in full flight and his unique sling-shot action meant the ball just suddenly appeared as he brought his arm from around behind his back and launched it at the batsmen.
Coming at ya. Johnson lets the ball go during the first Test between Australia and South Africa. Source: Getty Images
Johnson is not as quick as Thomson and does not have that same exaggerated javelin-propelling action but Australia’s current pace pack attack leader is also a slinger who surprises batmen with his action and probably feels quicker than the 150kph he generates.
But the one thing that Thomson and Johnson have in common is their ability to make the ball explode off the pitch from just short of a length.
Deliveries that would normally be played off the mid-rift are suddenly climbing at a batsmen’s throat.
The nasty bouncer which felled Ryan McLaren and forced him to spend Sunday night in hospital with delayed concussion was not the most dangerous delivery Johnson delivered during the first Test.
Nor was it the ball that took off at Faf du Plessis, who could do no more than fend it to Michael Clarke at second slip off the glove.
It was the delivery that seared at Hashim Amla before he had faced a ball in the second innings, flying between his raised arms as he tried to get his bat in front of his face and crashing into the grill of the helmet. Thank goodness for helmets.
Although he did not make a big score Amla played delightful back foot drives against Johnson shortly after being struck. That was brave batting.
It takes real courage to play Test cricket against genuine fast bowling. There is nowhere to hide. The world is watching and any sign of fear is suddenly pounced on by opponents, commentators and spectators.
South Africa have some very fine, courageous batsmen. The question is do they have the skill to deal with Johnson at his most deadly? So far the answer is no.
Dean Elgar gets a short ball from Johnson. Source: News Limited
THANKS FOR COMING
Dean Elgar is expected to make his return to Test cricket today in place of the injured Ryan McLaren.
Two days before the Test, Cricket South Africa dropped Elgar off its contract list and included a promising young kid named Quinton de Kock, who some good judges believe should be in the team.
Except that Elgar is in South Africa’s 15-man Test squad and de Kock is not.
It’s hardly a vote of confidence in a batsman who is expected to help shore up the team in the face of Mitchell Johnson’s onslaught, particularly given that the last time Elgar played Australia he made a pair on debut, dismissed both times by Johnson.
SAY THAT AGAIN
It’s not just CSA’s communications with its player that can do with a good deal of work. It’s communications with the general public are even worse.
On Sunday evening, Ryan McLaren was admitted to a Johannesburg hospital for delayed concussion after being struck a nasty blow in the helmet by Mitchell Johnson.
A day later, chairman of selectors Andrew Hudson and coach Russell Domingo did press conferences talking about the possible make-up of the team for the second Test in Port Elizabeth with no suggestion there were any problems with McLaren.
Then on Tuesday morning, CSA released a statement saying that McLaren had been ruled out.
The message, don’t believe a word we say.