By Nick Mulvenney
BRISBANE (Reuters) - Australians, so the old cliche goes, will bet on two flies crawling up a wall but few punts in the "lucky country" can have paid such rich dividends as the gamble on recalling Mitchell Johnson for the first Ashes test.
At his best, the 2009 ICC Cricketer of the Year's left-arm pace bowling is all but unplayable but more often than not in recent years, he has been erratic and apparently completely denuded of confidence.
Which version of the tall Queenslander would turn up at the Gabba was the question on the lips of many leading into the series and they had their answer in eight overs of rip-snorting pace bowling on Friday afternoon.
Using his slingshot action to devastating effect on a bouncy Brisbane wicket, the 32-year-old added three wickets to his pre-lunch victim Jonathan Trott to finish with four for 61 and transform Australia's prospects in the match.
"Mitch has been bowling with some very good pace over the last few months," Australia vice captain Brad Haddin told a news conference.
"He was outstanding in India with his pace. Today was just reward for the work he's put in. Good to have him back in the team and it's always good having those guys who can push the gun up near 150kph.
"Any guy who can push the radar up near 150ks, no matter how well you're playing, can make it uncomfortable for the opposition."
Three years ago at the Gabba, Johnson went for 170 runs without a wicket against England and was dropped for the second test in Adelaide.
He stormed back in the third at the WACA, taking 6-38 in the first innings as England were bowled out for 187 and adding three more wickets in the second innings to help Australia to victory - their last against England.
On Friday, Johnson did not get nearly as much movement on the ball as he did at Perth back in 2010 but, after coach Craig McDermott had read the bowlers the riot act at lunch, played the leading role in England's collapse from 82-2 to 89-7 in little over half an hour.
"Mitchell is a world class performer. In terms of pace, he definitely would be up there with some of the quickies I've faced in my time," said England opener Michael Carberry, Johnson's second victim of the day.
"More importantly, he put the ball in the right area, which is also going to be tough for anyone.
"In our preparations for the game, we knew what he was going to bring but we weren't quite up to it today."
Johnson's performance silenced England's Barmy Army of travelling fans, who have a full repertoire of songs lampooning the tall Queenslander.
And with 209 wickets in 52 tests, Haddin suggested he deserved a little bit more respect even if he was brought into the side only after a string of injuries.
"I don't think he's had too many problems, he's 200 test wicket-taker," Haddin added. "I'm comfortable with where Mitch is at, it's you guys who talk about it." (Editing by John O'Brien)
- Sports & Recreation
- Mitchell Johnson
- pace bowling