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The Ashes Betting: Mitchell the main man

Profiles RSS / / 04 March 2009 /

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With Warne, Gillespie and McGrath retired whilst Clark and Lee were out injured, Australian cricket required a bowling hero. Take a bow Mitchell Johnson, says Andrew Hughes, who has seen Johnson become Australia's most influential bowler in an Ashes year.

Whilst England have been toiling in the Caribbean, Australia have been doing what Australians do best: bouncing back. Those who chuckled at their misfortunes and saw the graduation of a bunch of unknowns to the baggy green as a chance to lump on England for the Ashes might be regretting it about now. On Monday, Australia stormed the South African castle, snatching the First Test by a convincing 162 run margin. And they did it without Brett Lee, Stuart Clark or Andrew Symonds. It's an ominous result for world cricket and with the Ashes around the corner, it is just one more dark cloud looming on Andrew Strauss's horizon.

Key to the Aussie victory was left-arm quick Mitchell Johnson. 'Mitch' has come a long way since he was singled out as a seventeen year old at a Pace Australia camp by Dennis Lillee. Australia brought him on slowly, letting him cut his international teeth in the one day game. They were right to do so. Not a graceful bowler, he rushes to the wicket off a relatively short run, right-arm pumping and listing slightly to the left as though carrying a heavy suitcase rather than a cricket ball, before unleashing an awkward looking slingshot delivery. In the early days, it was a hit and miss method. He lacked control of line and his habit of letting his left hand roll to the offside on delivery often stifled his natural swing. He was considered a work in progress, sheltered by the experience of Brett Lee and Stuart Clark.

But when Lee's ankle and Clark's elbow both gave out this winter, there was no-one else. Johnson had to lead the attack. It was a responsibility that he appears to have thrived upon. To his credit, he worked hard throughout 2008 and he is now a far more formidable proposition. The line is under control and his left hand is consistently behind the ball. His late swing, ducking in with the new ball or veering away with the old can be deadly. In Johannesburg he took eight wickets and also smashed a belligerent 96 in the first innings, clinching the man of the match award and further cementing his reputation as a useful lower order bat.

Australian cricket fans get excited about the emergence of a new left-arm quick bowler, perhaps because they have been blessed with three of the best that the game has seen. Bill Johnson was a canny medium pacer who was a key part of the 1948 Ashes winning 'Invicibles' and deadly on English wickets.

In the 1980s, the lanky Bruce Reid briefly caused mayhem with his extravagant bounce and seam movement, before injury wrecked his fragile physique. But the greatest of the three and the bowler Johnson most resembles is Alan Davidson. Senior bowler in the post-Lindwall and Miller era, he was a skilful fast medium operator, noted for the late swing he was able to impart on the ball. And like Johnson, he was an effective and powerful late order batsman, building many punishing batting partnerships with skipper Richie Benaud.

Of course, if Johnson is to add his name to the list of great Aussie left-armers, the Ashes would be the perfect arena. Now that he has added control to his ability to swing the ball, it isn't hard to envisage him enjoying English conditions. And with the likes of Siddle and Hilfenhaus gaining confidence and experience and both Brett Lee and Stuart Clark anxious to get back into the side, the comparisons with England's rather toothless attack are alarming.

The only area in which they do hold an edge is in the spin bowling department, with Swann, Panesar and Rashid competing for a place. Perhaps a two spinner strategy might be England's trump card in the summer? It would be a brave option, but it might be worth considering, particularly if Flintoff's injury problems resurface and Simon Jones is unable to return to the fold. As it stands, the odds of an England Ashes victory are on the drift, standing currently at [2.92] whilst the Aussies have shortened significantly to [1.93] Keep an eye out for more Ashes articles as the build up to the big summer contest continues here at Betfair.

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