Johnson: ‘Cricket is exciting enough as it is’

Mitchell Johnson is loath to pink ball Test cricket. “Why do you need to change it? That’s my question. It’s all about money. That’s all it’s about in the end. The countries, the associations, just wanna put bums on seats,” says the former Australia fast bowler.

Mitchell Johnson of Australia is chaired off by team-mates on the last day of his final Test, against New Zealand, at the WACA (Perth) on November 17, 2015. “Since I have retired from international cricket, I am open to exploring, even in the business world — trying to get out of my comfort zone. It can be daunting but you just have to take it on,” says Johnson.   -  GETTY IMAGES

In his heyday, the Australian was a fiery left-arm fast bowler. As Mitchell Johnson sits down for a chat in the Mumbai Indians team room, he is outspoken and frank while expressing his views on topics ranging from the Indian Premier League and Champions Trophy to pink ball Test cricket.

Question: How has your IPL experience so far been?

Answer: It’s been good. Would have liked to play more games. At the same time, I came over without high expectations for myself. I guess it stems from the Big Bash I played this year; I didn’t have the expectation of being the No. 1 strike bowler, so I had that same sort of thought process coming in here, but at the same time making sure I am ready and prepared. I didn’t come over thinking hundred per cent that I wanted to do a great job. It was more of a fact that I am behind a few bowlers. But like I said, I was ready to go. I played those two games. I guess my experience has really sort of shown as well, because in the past, I would have let these things — not playing — affect me. Having the experience is a bonus, and probably not having those expectations as well. But I have really enjoyed it because the team is winning, so that always helps. And it is great to get back to play in front of huge crowds. That’s one thing during the Big Bash that I really enjoyed, having a fan base. I know Perth has had a very strong fan base. Obviously in Mumbai, it’s huge, much bigger than Perth. We still have that same feeling when you go to a game or even if you walk through the foyer in the hotel, it’s unbelievable.

Mitchell Johnson... calling a spade a spade.   -  PTI

 

What’s it about you that makes teams keen on getting you on board?

I don’t know. I guess they see an opportunity. I know with the Big Bash I definitely wasn’t keen to play. I actually wanted to be more of a help around the team, and possibly if I could give something back as a player. But it really does go back to when I spoke to Justin Langer before contracts were available for the Big Bash. I had my mind set on helping out, coaching, doing a little bit of consultancy work with the Perth team. I guess he saw that there was a tinkle in the eye possibly for playing. And I hadn’t played the Big Bash T20 cricket. So, I was actually glad that I played the Big Bash.

I am not playing a lot of cricket now, actually; I am not going from one tournament to another. I didn’t like Twenty20 cricket as much because you are going back from Test matches to one-dayers to a couple of T20s here and there, so I found I didn’t really enjoy it as much. But I really enjoyed it this year.

Last year, for the Kings XI, I was pretty flat, to be honest. My interest levels were pretty low because I had just retired. I was on a high, but cricket wasn’t my main thing at that time. I was enjoying life. That’s why I played just three games and didn’t perform. I have come with a good attitude this IPL. To be honest, I was surprised that I got a contract, but it’s very nice that Mumbai put their faith in me. Hopefully I have been able to give back, whether it’s on the field or off the field, helping out with some of the young Indian boys. That’s what I love about the IPL, and especially with this team, that you are able to talk freely and help out. I have got some experience as well that I can pass on. I guess Mumbai saw that as well when they picked me.

How different is the Mumbai Indians team of 2017 compared with that of 2013?

Very well-balanced side, again! I guess that’s what they do really well. They recruit well. They are not just batting-dominant, or bowling-dominant or fielding-dominant, they actually blend the team pretty well, so obviously they do their research. I think it’s just run really well as an organisation. Pretty obvious with the owners, you would expect it to be run very well. Very professional. To be honest, I didn’t have too many problems when I was last here. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The main difference is probably the huge increase in the number of fans. Everyone loves Mumbai. Mumbai has fans everywhere.

Let’s talk about the Champions Trophy now. Was the 2006 edition your first trip to India in Australia colours?

I did come over to MRF (Pace Foundation) in Chennai when I was 19. Then I guess I toured with the developmental squad once as well. But that (Champions Trophy) must have been my first time in India as part of the Australian team. That was a great experience, playing alongside a lot of great players of the Australian team and against guys that I watched a lot on TV. I played a couple of games, I think (Johnson missed the first game and the final). To play for Australia at that stage, and to play in these conditions and adapt to it was a huge step for us. I really enjoyed it. You do have to work hard over here as a bowler. You have to learn different ways to get guys out. Little things like having your (slip) catchers in front, whereas in Australia you’ll have them back. Really loved that a lot.

Was the Champions Trophy rated as highly as the World Cup by the players?

I think, back then the players rated it quite high. There’s a lot of talk about one-day cricket. I was just talking to Mitchell McClenaghan about one-day cricket. There’s so much talk about the relevance of one-day cricket. I think it’s very, very important because you learn so many skills by playing one-day cricket. You can’t really get rid of one-day cricket. That’s where I started, learnt to bowl with the new ball in all kinds of conditions. But the most important skill I learnt was bowling through those middle overs — the cutters, the slower balls, change-ups — learning about conditions, having catchers in front, you learn a lot. There has always been a talk of what happens to one-day cricket, especially over the last 10 years. Even when I started, there were murmurs of how one-day cricket is going. In the last five years, these talks have become quite strong. But I think Twenty20 cricket exists only because of one-day cricket.

Can you recall the highlights from the two editions of the Champions Trophy that you featured in?

Winning the final in South Africa. It was New Zealand — wasn’t it — in the final? Shane Watson scored a hundred. Seeing our batters, especially Watto kind of sticks out. He had a pretty good tournament, so I was very happy for him. And receiving the cream jacket, that was actually pretty cool. But yes, to us it was a huge tournament. Playing for your country and taking pride in it is a great feeling. And we did. Yes, even the 2006 edition... I have lots of special memories because I got to play with some unbelievable players.

Coming back to the IPL, how much has it changed world cricket over the last decade?

It’s made Test cricket a lot faster, I think. We have seen guys taking on the quick bowlers a bit more with certain shots — shots that you wouldn’t have seen a decade ago. We’ve seen run rates a little bit higher in Test cricket, though there are other factors like the conditions. But in general, we’ve seen better run rates. I know for a long period the Australian team was scoring at a higher rate. So definitely it’s changed the skills of the bowlers and batters — I guess it’s improved them.

I guess the participation factor has probably changed. A lot of young cricketers are probably looking more towards T20. But it’s not a bad thing. It’s still participation in the game. You probably are gonna drag a lot more kids into playing the game. You have more families coming in and watching the game since it’s a shorter format. There’s definitely positives that T20 cricket has brought. You just hope that some of those kids who have never really thought of Test cricket might actually enjoy it and start playing the longer form. (David) Warner was branded a T20 player and look what he has done. There’s definitely positives there.

With the surge in T20 tournaments all over the globe, do you think it will reduce the volume of international cricket in the coming years?

Hasn’t yet — I mean there’s a possibility that it will. Your best tournament is the IPL because you’re getting a lot of international players that are available, so there’s that window there. In Australia, it’s starting to get a little bit better, but the problem with our thing is the Australian players are unavailable. There are a lot of tournaments around that are available. I guess, what it does is leave guys like myself in the game a little bit longer. There’s an opportunity to keep playing cricket a little bit longer, if you choose to. As from an association’s perspective, I don’t know how you are ever gonna change all that. I think international cricket still needs to stay strong and have a good schedule. I know the Australians travel a lot and the other countries have done it as well and played a lot of cricket. There’s always that issue of too much of cricket. I don’t know what they can actually do there. It’ll be interesting to see how things change in the next five years.

Like you said, the T20 tournaments offer an opportunity for guys like you to be around a little longer. But the flip side is that some of the guys end up compromising on international cricket in order to turn T20 freelancers...

Uhhh...! I guess it’s difficult. From my perspective, I thought I retired at the right age. I was very happy with my decision. I guess that’s a possibility, but I think when you’re playing for your country, you’re pretty focussed and that’s what you want to do. You want to keep playing as long as you can. Once you know that day is gonna end or you sort of know that you are on the outer, that’s a great option to have — Twenty20 cricket. I don’t think the guys will just play a couple of years of international cricket and then decide on T20. I mean you have a couple of guys that play only the T20 formats. They don’t have the ambitions to play international cricket. A couple of West Indian boys, obviously with the politics involved, it just opens up a lot of windows for all different kinds of situations. There can’t be any problem with that. As long as there’s good quality cricket, I have no problem.

Do you think all three formats can co-exist?

I don’t see any point of T20 Internationals. Maybe a World Cup. The (T20) games are either scheduled at the start or end of a series. What they are starting to do is split the teams. I don’t know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. Are you getting the best teams? Are you getting the best players? That’s the sort of wait and watch things to do. I just think you’ve got to play your best players. That’s what I said, the standard has to be good.

“I think pink ball cricket changes too many things. I think you have to change the stats because it’s a different kind of ball, played at night, different things happen that change the wicket. In Adelaide, the first time around, they kept heaps of grass on the wicket. Why can’t you do that in a normal Test match and bring the bowlers in? There are so many things that annoy me about it (pink ball Test),” says Mitchell Johnson.   -  REUTERS

 

You have made no bones about your opposition to pink ball Test cricket. What is it that doesn’t work for you?

Why do you need to change it? That’s my question. It’s all about money. That’s all it’s about in the end. The countries, the associations just wanna put bums on seats. Yes, there’s been a drop in attendance at Test matches but I am sure the ratings will show a lot of people, if not more, are still watching it on TV. The game is exciting enough as it is. I think pink ball cricket changes too many things. I think you have to change the stats because it’s a different kind of ball, played at night, different things happen, they change the wicket. In Adelaide, the first time around, they kept heaps of grass on the wicket. Why can’t you do that in a normal Test match and bring the bowlers in? There are so many things that annoy me about it (pink ball Test). I do see why they want to do it. You might bring a few more people to watch it, but in Australia, when you are playing one game in each state in the summer, if they really wanna watch it, they’ll come and watch it.

What makes you feel that a four-day Test works better than a day-night Test?

I think possibly that might work well. In the end, you’ve got to make wickets where batters and bowlers can have an even contest, so it makes it exciting to watch. Four-day Test cricket is definitely a possibility. Some games are being done in three days depending on the wickets that are produced. Five-day Tests are ideal but if I had to choose between a pink ball Test and a four-day Test, I would go with a four-day match on an exciting wicket.

Where do you see your career going from here?

From a cricketing point of view, I would look to play the Big Bash again. Sachin (Tendulkar) has been planning an All Star series again — I don’t know how much it’s being spoken about here — and there’s that possibility as well. And then I’ll see how things go. I literally take it one T20 tournament at a time. I have already said no to the Caribbean Premier League. I almost went to the Pakistan Super League, so that might be an option next year. I have turned down South Africa. Shane Watson has been persuading me to go to Bangladesh; he says it’s a good tournament. At this time, it’s just one tournament at a time. Just winding down, really! There’s a big auction here next season but I don’t know if I’ll throw my hat in the ring. That’s sort of it from a cricketing point of view. But the consulting stuff — that I’m sort of interested in. I’m not a sort of full-time coach. That’s not me. I like that consultancy role of a bowling coach, where you sort of go in and help out; just try to find out the right age-group to work with.

Speaking to Shane Watson about all this stuff is fascinating, talking on the same sort of lines. It’s about knowing your players at this higher level. Knowing each individual and how they operate and get them to work their best. Or get those youngsters, work on their actions and guide them through. It’s quite exciting talking about it actually.

Where do you think you fit better — at the development stage or at a higher level?

I don’t know yet. I am very open to trying things. Since I have retired from international cricket, I am open to exploring, even in the business world — trying to get out of my comfort zone. It can be daunting but you just have to take it on. Nothing to be scared about. If you get turned down about something, it’s fine. It’s another learning curve. You’re gonna make mistakes and that’s why cricket has been so good for me. I have made a lot of mistakes and learnt from them. I know what it takes, I know you have to work hard. I take all that in for my next career path.