with Neale Emslie
EVERY now and again in world cricket, you get a player whose performances elevate him to the status of phenomenal, lifting him above the generally high standard of some very good test players.
And so it is with Australian speedster Mitchell Johnson, whose game has risen to heights achieved by only a few in the history of test cricket.
There can be no question that Johnson has excellent support from his co-bowlers, but the fiery left- armer is single-handedly making the difference between this Aussie team and their peers on the world scene.
Longevity will decide whether Johnson can be classified as legendary, but, at the moment, he is the man everyone is talking about.
Whatever you may say about the intriguing mysteries of spinners like Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan, or the run-making exploits of batsmen such as Don Bradman and Viv Richards, there are few sights in world cricket more likely to capture the imagination than a genuinely quick bowler in full cry.
Perhaps it is the gladiatorial aspect of the battle as the batsman fights not only for survival, but also to find a way of making runs while the ball is whistling about his ears.
While SA fans will be desperately hoping the home batsmen find a counter to Johnson, I dare say quite a few of them will be making their way to St George’s to see one of cricket’s most frightening sights in action, even if he does chop down a few more Proteas.
Johnson’s recent performances recall a few instances in test cricket when a fast bowler made his opponents lie awake at night.
Just more than 80 years ago, Harold Larwood rose to prominence on the back of England skipper Douglas Jardine’s infamous bodyline tactics against the Aussies, which raised more feeling between the Ashes protagonists than anything that went on before or since.
In 1954-55, another Englishman was at the Australians’ throats when Frank Tyson produced some of the fastest bowling in the game’s long history as the tourists won in Australia for the first time since Jardine’s 1932-33 tour.
Two decades later, the Aussies unleashed Lillee and Thomson and there was no mercy from Dennis and Jeff as retribution was sought and achieved.
In the 80s, some fine batsmen produced heroic performances against the West Indies.
But there was no stopping the Caribbean force as they hunted in a hungry pack to rule the world for nearly 20 years.
Now Johnson is the new destroyer. He combines extreme pace with uncanny accuracy which sees most of his deliveries targeting the batsmen between chest and head.
There will be no place for the faint-hearted at St George’s over the next five days and the skill and courage of the SA players will be tested like never before.