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“What Mitchell Johnson did in this Test match and in the Ashes is add a new dimension to what you’ve seen over the past five or six years in Test cricket”
Legendary West Indies pace bowler Michael Holding has announced that Australia left-arm seamer Mitchell Johnson has brought batsmen back to reality with his lethal pace.
Holding believes that batsmen have become too “comfortable” facing “medium pacers” over the past couple of years that it was a massive shock to them when Johnson came steaming in and bowled at nearly 150km/h.
“What Mitchell Johnson did in this Test match and in the Ashes is add a new dimension to what you’ve seen over the past five or six years in Test cricket,” Holding told ESPNcricinfo. “We haven’t seen too many people bowl with that sort of aggression and that sort of pace, and I think it’s finding out some batsmen who have been quite comfortable over the past five or six years with the medium pacers they’ve had around.
“Dale Steyn has been quick…but Johnson has exhibited a great deal more pace and a lot more aggression. Pace is the game changer. A lot of bowlers are brilliant, Glenn McGrath was a fantastic bowler, but he didn’t have the effect this man is having. With that much pace it’s all about ‘this man can hurt me as well as get me out’, and that changes the entire dynamic of the game.”
Johnson struck fear into the hearts of the South African batsmen during the first Test in Centurion, especially after one his deliveries smashed Hashim Amla right on the helmet, while another one actually bloodied all-rounder Ryan McLaren.
However, Holding hopes that Johnson is not getting a sick thrill out of hitting or hurting batsmen.
“I wouldn’t want to be thinking a fast bowler gets any pleasure out of the thought of hitting anyone,” Holding said. “You get pleasure out of the thought that you know they’re afraid of you and you have that extra element to your game. If you have that skill of getting the ball in the right area, what you’re hoping is the batsman will fend it off or do something to get out. Even if he doesn’t get out it passes closely and he thinks in his mind ‘oh that was close, that could have been dangerous.
“At various times through the 1970s and 1980s when we had the fast bowling attack we had, we had that effect on the opposition. You go out as a fast bowler and you see the body language of the opposition players. They know exactly what’s happening. Proper fast bowling adds a different dimension to you as a person if you are bowling fast and you see people hopping around. It stays in the mind, and it affects the person who is hopping around as well.
“Johnson’s got control now he didn’t have before. Obviously in the time he’s spent away from the game, Dennis Lillee has worked with him, that has done a lot of good, because pace alone isn’t going to do it, you’ve got to have the control to put the ball where you want to. If you bang the ball into the pitch and it’s flying all over the place that doesn’t really matter, it has to be well directed.”
While Holding admitted to being impressed with Johnson’s resurrection after his horrendous performance during the 2010-11 Ashes series, the West Indian legend added that the 32-year-old’s bowling speed will decrease once he gets older.
“Mitch had come back after being out of international cricket for a while,” he said. “If for instance Dennis Lillee had got him early and sorted him out and he was doing this early in his career, he wouldn’t be doing it to South Africa now. He would not be able to bowl as fast as he’s bowling now for an extended period of time. Impossible. You’re not going to stay at that pace for 10-12 years.
“A prime example is Brett Lee…he retired early to make sure he could continue to play Twenty20 and earn big bucks. You cannot fault him for that, but that’s the nature of the game we are playing now. The amount of cricket being played means guys are going to do that, and even guys who want to stay with Test match cricket, they are going to make sure their careers are going to be stretched out a bit more by not bowling as fast.”
Holding also believes that pace bowlers like Johnson are born with the talent to bowl at such high speeds and cannot be moulded through intense workouts at the gym or in the nets.
“You can’t make them,” Holding said. “If it was simple as that you’d just send young bowlers into the gym and tell them to bowl fast. When countries do find someone with that ability to bowl fast they need to know how to deal with it, and that is why England have destroyed Steve Finn.
“They need to know how to deal with people who have the natural ability to bowl fast – not everyone can. You can’t just say everyone is going to search…I’ve heard that for donkey’s years, and people tried to copy us. When you get someone like that you’ve got to cherish it, nurture it properly from youth and make sure you take full advantage of it.”