Can England stop Johnson?


LONDON – Mitchell Johnson looked amiable and inoffensive as he wandered up North Terrace near Adelaide railway station and into town with his fast-bowling mate Peter Siddle, happy to stop and chat about his decision to allow his splendid moustache to keep growing beyond the end of Movember.

But if England's batsmen believe that the spite and snarl with which Johnson destroyed them in brash Brisbane will be neutered by a drop-in pitch as genteel as the parkland surroundings in the City of Churches, then Greg Chappell believes they could be in for a nasty shock.

Chappell could hardly be better qualified to comment on the prospects for an Adelaide Test. He grew up in the seaside suburb of Glenelg and played 11 of his 87 Tests at the famously beautiful Oval of his home city, as well as countless other state and one-day games.

"It's interesting with Adelaide," he noted in the harsher surroundings of Alice Springs earlier this week, having been sent by Cricket Australia to impart his wisdom on the youngsters playing for the Chairman's XI against England.

"I'm always amused by the talk about spinners. Good fast bowlers generally work pretty well anywhere. Facing someone bowling at 150 clicks is a challenge wherever you play."

Johnson's history in South Australia would seem to back up that thesis, as the Queenslander took 19 wickets in three Test appearances at the ground in the years 2008 and 2009, at less than 24 apiece – although Australia have omitted him from their last three Adelaide Tests, including England's victory three years ago when he exchanged angry words with Chappell, then a selector, after being dropped following a wild performance in Brisbane. How times change.

Anyway, having excelled against some of the most formidable pace bowling in history during World Series Cricket, Chappell was prepared to share some vague ideas about how England should tackle Johnson this week.

"You need to be well organised to be able to deal with it – like batting against any bowler, you've got to have a plan. Each player is going to have his own way of dealing with it. As long as you've got yourself a solid idea of what it is that you need to do to not only survive but prosper, it gives you a better chance than if you go out there with no idea of what your plan is."

Counter-intuitively, bravely, even masochistically, Chappell's plan was to look to get forward against such bowlers as Michael Holding and Andy Roberts – not by shuffling towards the ball as Jonathan Trott did in Brisbane, to disastrous effect, but by taking a good stride on the basis that there would not be many chances to do so – perhaps two balls an over, which could mean as a few as 24 in a session – and therefore he had to cash in.

Graham Gooch, another man who proved himself in the line of extreme fire – most famously with his centuries against West Indies in Leeds and Jamaica – is now the batting specialist in the England camp and has spent much of the week discussing the rejuvenated Johnson.

"He bowled fast and inconvenienced a few of our players with the short ball," Gooch said. "I take my hat off to him – he took nine wickets and you'd be lauding any bowler on any side who took nine in a Test. But short bowling has been around since the game started. We have to deal with it better in this game."

Gooch pointed out that there were decent-sized chunks of each innings in which Johnson looked little less threatening than when strolling up North Terrace in his slacks.

Alastair Cook and Michael Carberry, the left-handed openers, allowed most of his opening spell in the first innings to pass harmlessly down the leg side.

Even after the dismissal of Trott on the stroke of lunch – and it will always be a great cricketing imponderable how different things might have been had there not been time for Johnson to start his seventh over against Trott, with such devastating consequences for the batsman's career – England were proceeding serenely enough at 82 for two on the second afternoon until Kevin Pietersen flicked Ryan Harris uppishly to mid-wicket.

Then on the third evening and fourth morning, Pietersen and especially Cook showed their class and courage until Pietersen hooked rashly in the first over after drinks, and even after that both Ian Bell and Joe Root showed what could be done by ducking and swaying and generally playing at as little as possible.

"There were stages when we were batting – 50 for one, 70 for two – when things were calm," Gooch reflected. "But then things got a bit out of hand." (Johnson took three of the five wickets that fell for four runs inside four overs in the first innings and made short work of Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann in the second).

"The crowd whipped it up a bit and we didn't handle the situation as well as we should have. It's tough, I wouldn't deny that. It's not the sort of defeat you want – a heavy defeat and we didn't compete."

The problem, he hinted, is mental as much as technical. "There is character in the team, there is skill. Obviously we've got to show better will than we did in the last game, getting dismissed twice for less than 200. There's no mystery about this – we have to apply ourselves better. The conditions should be good here. We must get back to doing what we're capable of."

The battle lines have been drawn. – The Guardian

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