The weather. Queues. Public transport. Speak to a British person and the complaints will just start. Yet interview a cricket fan and those will resonate around a certain Australian. With a moustache, mind.
Mitchell Johnson was born in Queensland, and as an idol of Pete Sampras took to a career in tennis. Offered the chance to go to Brisbane to further his career, he declined but took Sampras’ aggressive fashion into cricket so perhaps there was no surprise that Dennis Lillee named him a “once-in-nine-lives prospect”.
Just three balls
That’s all it took for Johnson to cause Lillee to order Rodney Marsh to sign Johnson up to one of Australia’s most prominent cricket academies. He did but only ended up as the 12th man for Queensland’s stateside in 2001.
Believe it or not, Johnson was shy and nervous about achieving his dream. Yep, you heard that right. Unused but not afraid of the limelight he gradually improved, ironically and iconically hitting a six off his first ever ball in a one-off tour match against New Zealand.
It wasn’t long until the Australian national selectors took notice and in 2006 the fresh-faced mo-less Johnson took to the field for the first time in the baggy yellow and green, achieving figures of 0-64 after taking a bruising battering from Brendon McCullum and Jacob Oram.
Chairman of the selectors Trevor Hohns justified his selections on the grounds of grooming players for the future but after an erratic bowling action, he was under pressure to explain the Johnson decision.
And another one…
Seven. Historically lucky, whether that be due to numbers of days in a week, colours of the rainbow, or notes on a musical scale.
For Johnson, that figure became the catalyst for his career, where on his seventh international ODI against India, the critics stood up and took notice.
In Kuala Lumpur as part of the now-defunct DFL Cup, the Indian batting line-up of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Irfan Pathan and Yuvraj Singh, were probably more worried about the petrified of the ever gilding Glenn McGrath.
Yet Johnson tore into the Indian team, creating an auspicious aura that resonated with former Australian fast-bowling greats. Every delivery. 86mph, 89mph, 91mph. Consistent torment. No room for error. And figures of 5-35. Johnson had arrived with a bang.
Mitch makes his mark
In the era of post-McGrath and Warne, Johnson was touted to replace the former. Still finding his way through the test side, the Aussie made a respectable start to his test career, but it was against New Zealand in 2008, a year after his debut, that truly emphasised the devastating consistency in his bowling.
Figures of 9-69 didn’t really do it justice. A five-wicket haul turned a game which Australia looked likely to struggle into one extremely comfortable. The first innings bowling of 4-30 included three of the Black Caps’ middle order, leaving any chance of a comeback unlikely at best.
Only a year later Johnson was named man-of-the-series. For his batting exploits. Occupying the crease for three hours against a Dale Steyn inspired attack, Queensland’s former shy 17-year-old created utter carnage with a blistering 123 off 109 balls. Including five sixes. Johnson’s ruthlessness had begun.
The menace of the moustache
“The crowd are with Johnson. These are like the days of Lillee and Thompson. In comes Mitchell Johnson now. Oooooooooooh how about it, how about it, it’s barely believable! The Adelaide Oval’s gone off and so has Stuart Broad.”
To say England were in trouble was an understatement. Having been thumped in Brisbane two weeks earlier, pride as well as performance, even this early on, was judged. Johnson took both away from a depleted team.
Australia had declared on 570 and with the Adelaide pitch as dry as a desert batting instinctively came simply. So we thought.
In little over a session Johnson, donning a moustache synonymous with a lead singer of a 1980s rock band performing live at Wembley for Live Aid, had ripped through the heart and soul of the arch enemy.
Pace by fire. Cook had no answer, and neither did Stokes, Broad, Swann or indeed Anderson. And Jimmy knew about it. First ball and that was that, walking off to one of the most infamous stares pictured in the modern sporting era. History would tell a long tale of the context of their relationship.
Pick n Mix
Johnson’s self-belief became the vital ingredient for his recipe for success, born out of an idea of self-inclination that he was the mad maverick.
It’s probably not fair to say that the sledging from the Barmy Army and co. in Australia’s 2009 tour resulted in a complete melt-down in their home series two years later, but it clearly affected Johnson.
Even on his home patch, the Aussie endured “he bowls to the left, he bowls to the right, oh Mitchell Johnson his bowling is…”. Yes, you get the picture.
So attack eventually became the best form of defence, taking the game to England (quite literally) with fierce bouncers and scorching yorkers.
The phrase “sticking it to the Poms” was born out of past engraved endeavours, rattling and eating away in Johnson’s head of failures and mockery. It took more time than usual for a cricketer of that international standard to shake that off but in patience came potency.
You never really knew what you were going to get with Johnson. He captured the imagination of an enduring public, eager to impress with the very next ball with the fear of embarrassment, even if he knew deep down that any front page headlines the next day would be positive.
Did he transcend cricket itself? No. But would people pay to watch him charge at the crease? Nearly every time. The optimism of the Ashes rivalry concentrated around one man, a metaphor if you like of the deep divisive history between England and Australia.
Mitchell Johnson and his moustache will go down in folklore forever.