‘The injury was the best thing to happen to me’

“I always like to lead by example. The way I train hasn’t changed. Of course the responsibility has grown and I want to help the guys as much I can and that’s how the Australian team is.”

Expecting Mitchell Johnson to run in over after over to deliver accurate stuff — imbibed from the McGrath school of precision — is, to say the least, a far-fetched thought. Maverick as the Queenslander may be — often flirting with erratic bowling — his ability, as a genuine match-winner, to gatecrash into batting parties can’t be undermined. The sharp offerings from his low-slung left arm have brought him 205 wickets in 50 Tests.

After being sidelined for a year with a toe injury, Johnson returned to Test cricket against South Africa in Perth late last year. Since then, his form has certainly been encouraging. Johnson, 31, praises Dennis Lillee’s role in his comeback trail while denying suggestions that he is injury-prone. The tall quick is also happy to share his knowledge, as a senior member, with the younger crop of Australian pacers during the Indian tour.

Excerpts from a pre-series media interaction in Chennai:

Question: How frustrating was it to be out of action for a year?

Answer: I have had a few injuries when I started playing for Queensland. I had a stress fracture in my back and I got through that. Now the injury I had in my toe is lot more different. I made sure I did the correct things. I have matured a lot more as a cricketer. I took time mentally and worked hard to come back. It was good time to spend away from the game. It was a mental break, so I really enjoyed it. To be at home and work with Dennis (Lillee) and work on my run-up... the injury was the best thing to happen to me.

Are you prone to injuries?

I am not. It’s just like every other bowler. It’s due to the amount of cricket we play these days. Every young fast bowler like [Josh] Hazlewood has seen it. We are always playing ODI, Test and T20 and it’s non-stop.

How much has working with Lillee helped?

It’s been an amazing experience working with Lillee after my injury. I had a fair bit of time off — seven months out of the game. As you know, I have worked with him in the MRF Academy (Pace Foundation) and to work with him back home was really pleasing. He knows my game back and front and trusts me. It’s always nice to hear good things from him. It’s also good to go out there and put in what he asked to. I have enjoyed coming back and do what he said.

What’s your philosophy as a fast bowler?

I like to keep things simple and not overcomplicate. The goal is to get the opposition out and the batsman out. McGrath used to say ‘keep it simple around the off-stump and bowl the occasional bouncer.’ And I look to have the little bit of aggression being a fast bowler.

How do you look at Australia’s current crop of pace bowlers when compared to the one you started out with?

You can’t compare. Everybody is different and we have young guys in the team now. It was a great privilege for me when I started out cricket in Queensland as I had Andy Bichel, Michael Kasprowicz and many other guys, including Ashley Noffke. When I got into the Australian team, I had Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie, Glenn McGrath, and now Peter Siddle, who has the experience.

We have young bowlers like Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and we have more such guys coming through. The bunch we have now is very exciting. Starc is one of the big ones and I have enjoyed playing with him. With him being a left-armer especially, it’s always nice.

How do you help the young pacers? Has your role changed in the team?

I don’t think it has changed. I always like to lead by example. The way I train hasn’t changed. Of course the responsibility has grown and I want to help the guys as much I can and that’s how the Australian team is. We want to be the number one team in all the formats.

I spoke to Nathan Lyon, a spin bowler, just about the mental side of things. I guess the experience I shared with him really helped him. That’s what helping each other is about. That’s what McGrath and those guys did for me and it’s my turn to do those things.

Did you share bowling tips with Starc ahead of the Indian tour?

I can’t tell him where to bowl. I always said that variations work. You need to change the pace. But you obviously have a challenge thrown at you. It depends on the condition and the bounce on the wicket. A Short-ball is a useful thing in these conditions and we rely on reverse swing; back home we bowl a bit fuller. Learning from experience is the key. Even though I had McGrath and Lee, I learnt on my own.