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  • The Ashes

Johnson leaves England reeling

The Report by David Hopps at Adelaide Oval
December 7, 2013

Australia 132 for 3 (Warner 83*) and 570 for 9 dec. lead England 172 (Bell 72*, Johnson 7-40) by 530 runs
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Mitchell Johnson destroyed England with his post-lunch spell © Getty Images
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Mitchell Johnson produced a blood-curdling display of world-class fast bowling to destroy England in the second Test in Adelaide. Johnson's sustained menace bore comparison with the great fast bowling spells of the modern age as he took 5 for 16 in five overs immediately after lunch to leave England in a state of bewilderment.

England lost their last six wickets for 55 runs in a wholesale collapse as bad as any they suffered during the days when they arrived in Australia as lambs to the slaughter. They will fear that lamb is back on the menu. They conceded a first-innings lead of 398 and with the match barely passed its mid-point now face the ever-growing likelihood of going 2-0 down in the five-Test series. And Perth, Johnson's adopted home ground, the fastest, bounciest track in Australia, is up next.

With two days remaining, Australia's lead is already 530 runs: more than England have managed in three attempts in this Ashes series. David Warner's easeful 83 not out dominated a low-key final session after Australia's openers fell carelessly to James Anderson and Monty Panesar turned one to bowl Michael Clarke, but the talk rarely strayed from Johnson.

England were already in disarray at lunch at 4 for 117, which eased Johnson's path. His ever-lengthening moustache, which he grew for prostrate cancer awareness and which he has now kept as a good luck charm, gave the impression that he was a wild fast bowler transported from another age. England will have to hope it eventually grows so long it trips him up.

He finished with 7 for 40, twice on a hat-trick, with England's lower order entirely unable to cope with a perpetual assault above 90mph; potent slingers from a heavily muscled, koi-fish tattooed left arm. Only Ian Bell's unbeaten 72 restored a sense of normality, playing Johnson with aplomb whenever he was on strike and watching with growing desperation whenever he was not. In three innings, Johnson now has 16 wickets at less than nine runs each.

This is essentially a flat pitch, one upon which Australia declared at 9 for 570 and one on which England must surely have imagined they could tame Johnson and get a foothold in the Ashes series. But if you can make a pitch flat, you cannot make the air slow. England have yet to make 200 in three attempts. Their insistence that they have no inherent weakness against fast bowling is not entirely hollow because most of the top order have played Johnson well at some stage, but Michael Vaughan, the former England captain, labelled it as one of England's worst batting performances for years.

Johnson's trail of destruction: six wickets for 16 runs in 26 balls

  • 1.22pm (50.1 overs, 144.1kph) Ben Stokes, on his Test debut, might never have seen pace like this. While he was guilty of playing slightly across a full straight ball, the real issue was Johnson's searing pace. It was the first lbw dismissal of the series and was only made by the TV umpire after Australia appealed the original not out decision.
  • 1.26pm (50.5 over, 143.4kph) Matt Prior, devoid of confidence and having just received two fierce bouncers, felt for one tentatively outside off stump and was caught behind.
  • 1.33pm (50.5 overs, 148.4kph) At first it appeared Stuart Broad had remarkably good eyesight. He held up play for around five minutes before facing his first - and as it transpired, only - delivery after complaining that some screws in the side of the sightscreen were shining in an off-putting way. When Johnson finally did get the chance to bowl to him, the fall delivery knocked back Broad's leg stump as the batsman moved far too far across to the off side. Perhaps that eyesight isn't so good, after all?
  • 1.52pm (54.5 overs, 147.3kph) Graeme Swann, perhaps reasoning that his best method of defence was counter-attack, threw his bat at a full ball well outside off stump and edged to the slips.
  • 1.54pm (54.6 overs, 150.4kph) James Anderson's tentative forward prod left a gap so large between bat and pad that Johnson could have parked his car in it. Anderson's middle stump was sent cartwheeling. Johnson's glare as Anderson walked off brought back memories of the Perth Test in 2010 when Anderson, having exchanged words with Johnson, bowled Ryan Harris and glared at Johnson.
  • 2.55pm (68.2 overs, 143.8kph) It took just two balls of a new spell for Johnson to end England's stubborn last-wicket stand of 37. Again, Monty Panesar was simply beaten for pace as his timid prod resulted in a thin inside edge into his off stump.

Johnson's second over after lunch did the most damage, Ben Stokes, Matt Prior and Stuart Broad falling in the space of five balls. Stokes at least managed to steal his first Test run - a firm push to mid off which might conceivably have resulted in a run-out had not Ryan Harris fumbled at mid-off. But Stokes fell to the first ball of Johnson's next over as the ball crashed into a hopeful front pad. Umpire Marais Erasmus refused the appeal, presumably imagining that Stokes had got an inside edge, but Australia overturned the decision on review.

There was no end to Prior's poor form, not with Johnson in this frame of mind. He lasted four balls, rapped on the chest with the second and ducking for self-preservation against the third. After the roughing up, came a fuller delivery which Prior edged to the keeper.

Broad lasted five minutes, but that was largely because he spent all but five seconds of them fussing about the sun glinting from some bolts on the sightscreen. England's Ashes villain was roundly booed as the delay became prolonged. Johnson's animalistic fast bowling had even awoken Adelaide's normally dainty crowd.

With the white tarpaulin sheets also lit up by the sun, Johnson seemed to be rushing in from some sort of Australian cricketing heaven, the wispy clouds above the cathedral suddenly appearing more celestial.

If Broad had hoped Johnson's adrenalin rush would subside during the delay, he was to be disappointed. A member of the groundstaff descended from his ladder and play resumed. Broad sought to move back and across, and his exposed leg stump was uprooted. This time the boos were more triumphant.

Johnson missed the hat-trick when Graeme Swann chipped the first ball of his next over none too convincingly through midwicket, but Swann is not equipped for a task like this. He fended off a nasty bouncer in Johnson's next over before driving desperately and falling to a fast catch at first slip by Clarke.

The finest piece of theatre was reserved for Anderson, whose middle stump was removed first ball. Johnson scowled into Anderson's face as he ran the length of the pitch; Anderson determinedly did not make eye contact and stared blankly at the pavilion to where he was about to return.

Johnson did not quite finish off the job. Normality descended upon the Adelaide Oval. Bell advanced his score into the 70s, his only concern when he survived a review for lbw. Johnson returned again. Two balls, and an inside edge onto pad and stumps from Monty Panesar, was all it took.

England were already in disarray before Johnson's post-lunch intervention as they surrendered three wickets in the morning session, their only source of comfort being Michael Carberry's first Test half-century. Joe Root would not be proud of his attempt to slog-sweep Nathan Lyon. He was overstretched as he took the ball from just outside off stump and misjudged the bounce. Even though the boundary in front of the unfinished stand is a mere 53 metres, he fell comfortably short, surrendering his wicket to a catch by Chris Rogers. Root had laboured for 80 balls for 15 and his efforts were wasted.

If Root's departure was bad enough for England, Kevin Pietersen's departure must have left them screeching with frustration. Australia set two short midwickets when Peter Siddle bowled to Pietersen and he could not resist the challenge. He did not just play the shot, he manufactured it, moving across his stumps to a length ball and whipping it to the squarer of the two fielders, George Bailey juggled with it four times, without ever looking out of control, before the ball finally rested in his hands.

It is a shot Pietersen feasts upon, and such is his determination to keep playing it that even if Australia stationed four short midwickets it would probably not quell his desire. Siddle, too, has repeatedly unsettled him around off stump and that has increased his desire to find a get-out shot. But he has fallen in this manner twice in the series and Australia can celebrate a tactical victory. He also had a scare in Siddle's previous over, before he had scored, when Australia unsuccessfully reviewed for a catch at the wicket.

Bell was bent upon playing with natural freedom. He lofted his seventh ball, from Lyon, over long off for six and, in Lyon's next over, cleared the rope at long-on. It had taken England 35 overs to get their scoring rate above two an over.

But Australia checked them again when Harris and Shane Watson produced five successive maidens - the last ball of the fifth of them resulting in the dismissal of Carberry who pulled Watson forcefully and down, only for Warner to pull off an excellent left-handed catch in front of square.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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