International Cricket

On his 35th birthday, revisit how Mitchell Johnson terrorised opposition batsmen

Fiery short deliveries, toe-crushing yorkers and prodigious swing: the Australian left-armer had it all.

It is a pity that Mitchell Johnson's best years came during the last two seasons of his career. Tall, athletic and furiously fast, Johnson, who turned 35 on Wednesday, was handpicked out of obscurity by pace legend Dennis Lillee as a teenager. The only other time Lillee did that, he had unearthed another gem in Brett Lee.

Picked as the pace spearhead who would lead the Australian side to their next chapter of greatness, an under-confident and an unsettled Johnson struggled. Who would not? After all, he was thrown in to the deep end to step in the shoes of Glenn McGrath, Lee, Jason Gillespie and Co. Flashes of extraordinary brilliance were punctuated by frustrating spells, and there was a point where it was not far-fetched to think that Johnson's career was damaged without repair.

A fine title-winning season with Mumbai Indians in 2013 steadily gave birth to Johnson 2.0. Armed with a handlebar mustache, a few extra yards of pace and a shorter run-up, batsmen would never find Johnson the same again. After three straight Ashes defeats, the Urn returned Down Under and Johnson was on the forefront of it all, dismantling England with 37 wickets at a staggering 13.97 a piece to help Australia bring up another 5-0 whitewash.

Ahmed Shehzad

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Johnson's detractors would point at his record in the subcontinent but this delivery needs skill and accuracy, not a pitch that is conducive to aid the bowler's strengths. The left-armer had just been smashed for a boundary by Ahmed Shehzad. Johnson's ego was bruised. While he had always been excellent with taking the ball away from the batsmen, not many were sure what Johnson could do when he could bring it in. Shehzad found out and it was not pleasant for him as he stood there and watched in disbelief after getting his stumps dislodged.

Alastair Cook

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Many say there were two versions of Cook – one before Johnson's Ashes and the one after. In Cook's defence, the entire England batting order crumbled to the Queenslander. Johnson had a excellent record against left-handers and this was dubbed as the ball of the Ashes, breaching the England skipper's forward-defence with slight deviation, and clipping the off-stump. Cook had no chance here and it was a recurring theme during the 2013-'14 Ashes.

Gautam Gambhir

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This was a One-Day International in Guwahati against India and Johnson had just cleaned up the dangerous Virender Sehwag. This was 2009, where Gambhir was in the form of his life but Johnson sent the Indian's stump cartwheeling with a ferocious delivery, full, and just short of yorker length but unplayable nonetheless. Johnson's strikes set the tone for a comfortable Australian win.

'Get ready for a broken f*****g arm'

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After the Ashes, Johnson continued to terrorize batsmen around the world, only to lose his zing, by his own admission, after teammate Phillip Hughes's death. Hashim Amla nearly had his head blown off, Ryan McLaren had to nearly be stretchered off after a Johnson snorter left him dizzy.

The video shows the sheer psychological damage that Johnson left on an excellent England batting lineup. It was through his stock bouncer: the one that is aimed at the batsman's rib cage. Former Australian skipper Michael Clarke's sledge best summed up what a batter can expect from Johnson's thunderbolts.

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Butterfly roof and cantilever (Image credit: Design Milk on Flickr.com)
Butterfly roof and cantilever (Image credit: Design Milk on Flickr.com)

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Floating staircase (Image credit: Design Milk on Flickr.com)
Floating staircase (Image credit: Design Milk on Flickr.com)

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Exposed concrete wall (Image Credit: Getty Images)
Exposed concrete wall (Image Credit: Getty Images)

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