The Mitchell Johnson bowling action – a nasty and effective and unreliable thing

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Mitchell Johnson contributed some extremely interesting cricket and you can’t ask for much more than that from a player. Overall, his record is very good, but that long-term-very-goodness was created by opposing short-term extremes.

At his best, Johnson was as exciting to watch as pretty much any cricketer ever. If your team was playing against Australia, you may not have enjoyed the spectacle, but you can’t say it didn’t raise the heart-rate. It wasn’t so much the pace, as that sense that the entire match could be decided in short order.

Set against that, his worst was comically dire. This is of course just as entertaining and therefore, in our eyes, every bit as worthwhile. Friend or foe, Johnson will be missed.

Where’s the ball gone?

If there’s a lesson to be gleaned from the impact of Good Johnson, it’s that even in its purest form, fast bowling isn’t all about pace – it’s about reaction times. Ed Cowan helps us understand this with an account of what it was like to face him.

“He rocks back after the familiar rhythmical approach, and then it seems you wait an eternity for the ball to be launched towards you. An ever-so-brief moment of panic can sweep across you as you realise he has let it go but you have not picked it up until the ball is halfway down.

“There is certainly some luck involved in getting through those early exchanges – if one delivery is on the money, your day can be over before it really begins. So much of the advance information gained by batsmen about the length of a delivery vanishes when the bowler possesses such an action.”

You can get half an idea of what he means by watching this video comparing the actions of Mitchells Starc and Johnson.

At this point, Johnson’s bowling arm is already down and the ball is well on its way to being released…


… but yet the two bowlers release the ball at (almost) the same time. As Cowan says, there’s almost a pause when the ball’s behind Johnson in his delivery stride; a coiled-spring moment that gives the batsman a split second to ponder what’s to come and also denies him the rhythm he needs to react properly.

Starc is the archetypal thoroughbred fast bowler. Johnson was the Whangotron 9000. For all that a smooth, languid bowling action might be more aesthetically pleasing, in many ways the Johnson method presents more of a threat.


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  1. I was genuinely sad when I saw the cricinfo headline. Would have liked him to at least whack a century, if not take a fivefer, before he quit. I hate it when good players go out on a low.

    Jason Gillespie did it properly.

  2. He bowled to the left/ he bowled to the right/ that Mitchell Johnson – he contributed some extremely interesting cricket

    I like the phrase “X contributed some extremely interesting Y and you can’t ask for much more than that from a Z”. I will be working it into conversations whenever possible, along with this sort of thing.

    “Christmas Day was very nice, Mum contributed some extremely interesting Roast Potatoes, and you can’t ask for much more than that from a parent”.

    And yes, these particular potatoes were worthy of capitalisation.

    1. He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right… that Mitchell Johnson, if he chooses to go into a post-retirement punditry career may well deliver some fascinating analytical insight.

      1. He bowled to the left, he bowled to the right; that Mitchell Johnson, he’ll probably be mostly remembered for that song, and that’s probably not what he was aiming for when he started his career.

      2. Indeed, Balladeer, but then Mitchell Johnson’s aim was not his best attribute – hence the song.

      3. At least the song captures something of the spirit of the man – particularly that he came to defy it. I’d rather be remembered for that than for a comedy novelty song that didn’t relate to me in any way except for the convenience with which my name rhymed with something the singer was struggling to make work otherwise.

      4. Hmm, as a well known writer of comedy novelty songs at the end of the last century, I am now racking my brain to think of examples that fit your criterion, Bailout.

        I think one of my best (or worst) that fits your pattern was the song “My Cherie Earns More” to the tune of My Cherie Amour”.

        Or perhaps “The Louis Farrakhan-can” to the tune of Offenbach’s Infernal Gallop, otherwise known as “The Can-can”.

  3. By the way, recent posts and latest appeals in the sidebar – anyone use them or should I remove them again?

    1. Too slow. We’ve swapped it for random posts.

      Seems more in keeping with the philosophy of this website to include prominent links to ‘news’ from 2007.

      1. Random posts is the thing.

        Anyone incapable of finding the recent posts by simply… just going and looking at the recent posts, does not deserve to see the recent posts.

        But we all deserve a shot at some random posts if we are having a quiet day and fancy a bit of KC serendipity.

      2. Is the ‘closing’ of comments on old articles a recent development? I don’t like it. I worry it will lead to a lack of occurrences of classic postings, e.g. Baldy, in future.

      3. Our spam filter’s stopped a million spam comments, but at one point it wasn’t working too well and thousands were getting through each day. Our web host slowed the site down, saying it was our fault. It wasn’t, but closing comments on old posts did alleviate the problem. Think it’s sorted now, but it was such a ball-ache persuading them to treat the site fairly again that we’re loath to switch them back on.

        The majority of genuine users comment on the last two or three posts, so it doesn’t have too much of an impact. We know what you’re saying though. We may open them again at some point.

      4. Sometimes there’s a readworthy comment at the bottom of the previous-thread-but-two so recent appeals have their place, I think.

      5. Agreed – latest appeals should stay. And the randomness opens up near-infinite possibilities for workplace skiving, so I’m all for that.

      6. Please bring back the link to comments at the bottom of the post. It’s annoying to read the post, then scroll back up to see the comments.

        Hate to break it to you like this, but we come here for the comments. And the cat pics.

    1. Yes, whether those things were good or bad for your team (regardless of whether “your” team happened to be Australia, or whoever Australia were playing – or even The Team That The Team Who Are Currently Playing Australia Will Play Next, given his propensity for inflicting injury) seemed to be entirely at random. Which is even more to his credit, keeps you interested.

      1. Facing his bowling must have been like playing Russian Roulette, only with a cricket ball instead of a bullet. So probably not ‘Russian’ Roulette at all.

  4. He seemed to encapsulate the post-Warne era of Australian cricket – shaky and unreliable, but with a worrying tendency towards occasional unbeatable brilliance. Yes, at the start of every test you had visions of 8 for 22, an innings in disarray, but by the end of day 1 you could very often relax and enjoy the fun.

    It’s not the sort of thing that Cricinfo’s stats can easily tell you, but I wonder what his match-winner / was he playing / hilarious liability ratio actually was.

    I’m just about to get on an airyplane. I expect a definitive answer when I get off, or deplane, as the Americans say, wrongly.

  5. I’ve got a few suggestions. Did I miss the deadline? Well, I’ve still got them, so you can have ’em:

    1. I liked the ‘Manifesto’ on the right — in my opinion, that contains some of the best pieces here. I generally hate this wordpress style of putting a bunch of things at the bottom, but I might be alone in this regard.

    2. I am rather ‘meh’ to the latest appeals sidebar. I would much rather swap it for Manifesto, but it seems good. And like facebook, if you shove it down our throats enough, we might one day find life without it impossible.

    3. I really like the random selection of articles.

    4. The search function seems broken (or at least, much less useful than before). I used to be able to search for specific terms/combinations and it’ll pull out a bunch of articles. These days it just politely apologizes. It all seems very British and very annoying – sort it out, will you?

    1. The putting-everything-at-the-bottom design is a modern phenomenon as it helps make sites mobile friendly. If you’re not already looking at this on a phone, narrow the window and you’ll see at a certain point the sidebar just disappears.

      Inclined to agree with you about Manifesto needing a more prominent position. Surely that would be better than Latest Appeals – we’re still not sold on that.

      The search function’s an interesting one. We didn’t expect any objections to that. The old Google-powered version gave a list of results, which was good, but if you searched again on that results page, it then gave you non-site-specific results, which was annoying.

      Anyone else have strong feelings about the search thingy?

      1. I did prefer the Google one, although you’re right about the second search not being site specific.

      2. I spotted a BailOut comment on this post I would otherwise have missed through the medium of the Latest Appeals, which makes it worthwhile for me. Agreed that the manifesto should be up there somewhere though.

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