Less than eight months ago, Australia had just been soundly beaten by England in the second Ashes test of the 2013 summer. The word ‘crisis’ was being thrown around. Now, they’re seemingly only formalities away from becoming the best Test team in the world.
Their Ashes defeat in England was returned with interest Down Under, and that whitewash has now been very much backed up. After soundly thumping England, the Aussies have since travelled to South Africa, home of the best test side in the world, and they’ve beaten them as well.
So what’s happened? How on earth have they done it? Back in July, many cited problems with the captain, with the batting, with the Cricket Australia hierarchy – there seemed to be no end of issues. Was the solution as drastic as wheeling it all back, investing in grassroots cricket and watching a talented group of youngsters emerge.
What happened was exactly the opposite. Rather than some young starlet coming out of state cricket to turn their fortunes around, but a long lost friend coming out of the test wilderness: Mitchell Johnson.
England’s batsmen know all too well the feeling of returning to the pavilion with their tail between their legs, battered and bruised by the brash brilliance of Johnson – but now it’s South Africa who have been humbled by the snarling, handlebar-moustachioed Aussie quick.
Right now, there is no doubt that Mitchell Johnson is the best fast bowler in the world. His pace, which has always been there, is now consistently accompanied by a lethal accuracy. Johnson started in South Africa where he left of against England Down Under, ending the first match of the series with quite breath taking match figures of 12-127.
Let’s not forget who he was bowling to either – this wasn’t just any batting line-up; Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis; South Africa bat deep and they bat well. All have been dispatched by Johnson’s brilliant pace. Oh, and that ridiculous criticism from some quarters that all Johnson does is ‘mop up the tail’? In the first test, Johnson took out four of the opening five batsmen in the first innings, and three in the second. So there’s that put to bed.
This series had been hyped up not just as the top two test teams facing off, but a battle of the two best fast bowlers; Dale Steyn and Mitchell Johnson. If we look solely at wickets, Steyn has taken 12, and Johnson has 22. It’s a no-contest.
It’s not just what Johnson brings with his bowling, though. Ever since he has returned to the team and started blowing every batsman away, there has been a tangible sense of confidence about the Aussies; they’ve followed Johnson’s lead and their confidence has grown exponentially. Johnson has been the spark, the catalyst, to get the best out of these obviously talented cricketers.
The bowlers follow his lead very well; indeed Johnson’s partnership with Ryan Harris can be devastating. Soon-to-be Outlaw Peter Siddle is no slouch either. However, Nathan Lyon, the previously maligned off-spinner, is a great example of the confidence and freedom that Johnson has given Australia. After being criticised following the Ashes series in England, but with Johnson now putting the fear of God into batting orders, Lyon can now more effectively utilise his spin, applying even more pressure and taking crucial wickets.
In the batting, David Warner has started to become the test opener England supporters feared he could be. Public enemy number one on these shores he may be, but there’s no doubting his ability however. Back-to-back centuries in the final test at almost a run a ball laid the foundation for a truly magnificent Australian victory.
Clarke’s captaincy has come on leaps and bounds too – as it was always going to, given the time. No one is instantly a top test captain, they are made not born, and Johnson’s impact has given Clarke the chance to hone his craft. It’s far easier to captain a side that’s winning and playing well after all, as Clarke is doubtless finding out.
Throughout the whole team, Australia have improved greatly, and that’s what can happen with confidence – suddenly a very good team can become a great one. If this Aussie team can carry on this form, there’s no reason they can’t become just that.