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SK Elite: Mitchell Johnson's thunderbolts at the Gabba in 2013

  • His 5/42 in the opening Test of the 2013 series was among the best spells in the history of Test cricket.
rohit sankar
Modified 20 Dec 2019, 14:06 IST

Johnson was at his frightening best in the first match of the 2013 Ashes
Johnson was at his frightening best in the first match of the 2013 Ashes

The Gabba, a theatre which has witnessed multiple England sides collapse over the years, has always had an intimidating atmosphere about it. 'Gabba' is an aboriginal word for "fighting arena" and the Aussies have maintained the hostile ambience in the stadium, bullying visitors into submission with their volatile crowd and scary quicker bowlers.

But perhaps the best of them came in 2013, when England succumbed to one man, steaming in and delivering lightning speed thunderbolts - Mitchell Guy Johnson.

The prelude

The Gabba was frightening for any visiting team, more so for England than any other. They had last won at the ground in the time of Ian Botham, in 1986. The Aussies last lost in Brisbane in 1988 against the mighty West Indies. England had won just four games at the Gabba in 19 attempts before the 2013 Ashes.

In 2002, the visiting side, led by Nasser Hussain, was crushed by 384 runs. Simon Jones experienced the brunt of the Aussie crowds when he ruptured his ligament while fielding and had to be stretchered off the field, his tour coming to a screeching halt.

As I was carried off, someone in the crowd shouted that I was a 'weak pommie ba***rd' and threw a can of beer at me," Jones recalls.

"But I didn't take it personally. The Gabba was like that. It's a seriously impressive stadium with its own intimidating properties."

In 2006, Steve Harmison ran in and bowled perhaps the worst ball in the first Test of any series - and certainly the Ashes - when he sprayed a ball to second slip at the Gabba. England lost the match by 277 runs.

The summary until Johnson became 'Mo'

Australia v England - Fifth Test: Day 3
Johnson ended several careers in that series which Australia swept 5-0

England, for a change, started their Ashes on a high, reducing the hosts to 132/6 shortly after lunch on day 1, with Stuart Broad the wrecker-in-chief with four wickets. However, Brad Haddin and Johnson put together a 114 run stand that resurrected the innings and gave Australia 295 in the first innings. The total was by no means huge on a flat, baked, Gabba wicket.


But Australia were relentless with the ball, Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson steaming in and ruining English dreams with pace and fury as the visitors collapsed to 136 all out. Johnson grabbed 4/61 and already looked a rejuvenated bowler after receiving taunts from the English public less than four months earlier.

David Warner and Michael Clarke smashed hundreds as Australia declared on 401, firm favourite to win the Ashes. England's second innings looked a mere formality until Mitchell Johnson happened.

The Exorcist

Australia v England - Fourth Test: Day 3
Johnson was beastly and looked every bit the bowler that England would have had nightmares about

With 561 to win, the Test was firmly in Australia's hands.

But could they have the series too? Wait, what? How was that possible? It was just the first Test of the five match series. Surely, any team is capable of coming back after a loss and winning a series in cricket. But on that day, with his spell, Johnson ensured that England's Ashes hopes had sunk firmly.

The English had held on to the urn for three consecutive years and then a slingy left-arm seamer emerged, exorcising his own demons, and running through the England line-up so ferociously that the mental disintegration of the scything attack meant that the Poms had lost the series then and there.

The Mitch just kept digging it in short and catching the England batsmen on the hop. They weren't mere soft bumpers. The ball was being hurled off a strong shoulder at 150kmph and aimed directly at throats. England were clueless, befuddled, hunting for answers and saving their heads as Johnson bowled with scorching pace and aggressive intimidation.

"I like bowling short at the Gabba," Johnson said later to Cricket Australia. "I like bowling that short ball and it works very well in those conditions with cracks running down it. You can get inside the batsman's head."

He not only got inside the head of batsmen but also on their tail. Jonathan Trott was worked over by some searing short balls and eventually went for a pull only to sky a catch to deep square leg.

Kevin Pietersen was next. There are few better batsmen of the hook and pull than Pietersen in the England line-up. But even he had no answers to Johnson's fury. Another short ball and Pietersen took it on, probably just to save himself from the pain of ball on helmet, but it went straight down the throat of the deep fielder as Johnson set off on his celebratory run.

Australia v England - Fourth Test: Day 3
His death stare had the English batsmen on their feet

Broad was next. Johnson changed his angle to around the wicket, but kept his target the same - the head. The angle, pace and venom behind the delivery meant any batsman would have found it tough to survive. Broad gloved the bumper to the keeper as England were reduced to 151/7.

It turned to 151/8 in two balls, when Graeme Swann, awaiting more of chin music, received a fuller ball, angling across him and edged to the cordon.

Another brute to Anderson sealed Australia's win and England's nightmare as the Gabba once again bore witness to some enthralling cricket.

Johnson embodied Australia's supremacy over the visitors, rattling them with bounce, pace and aggression. It was a spectacle watching Johnson steam in at the Gabba, decimating the England batsmen with his death stare and hurling red cricket balls at their heads with spine-chilling pace. If ever a spell altered the course of a whole series, this was it.

Published 21 Nov 2017, 14:03 IST
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