Bouncing bomb: pace attack targets soft spot

December 28, 2012 ... Dhammika Prasad is struck on the hand by Johnson and calls for the team physio as play is delayed, but does not leave the field.
December 28, 2012 ... Dhammika Prasad is struck on the hand by Johnson and calls for the team physio as play is delayed, but does not leave the field.

MITCHELL JOHNSON has hurt opposition batsmen before. Just ask Graeme Smith or Jacques Kallis, who have felt the full force of the Australian left-armer when he turns predator. Add to that list another modern-day great, Kumar Sangakkara, who, amid Sri Lanka's disastrous defeat in Melbourne, received a blow from a Johnson bouncer so serious he went under the knife.

In his second match back since his Test career was revived, Johnson reigned supreme at the MCG, playing the lead hand in the third day carnage as the tourists rolled over meekly and being left eight runs short of a second Test hundred when he ran out of partners.

He said Australia had identified a weakness among Sri Lanka's batsmen when facing the short ball and, on a bouncing Boxing Day Test deck, was able to exploit it. Johnson not only finished the match with six wickets, 92 runs and the man of the match gong but wiped out two batsmen, Sangakkara and wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene.

''It was a plan for us,'' he said. ''Obviously, on the last couple of days in Hobart, the boys went pretty hard at their batters with the short ball and they didn't like it, so that was a plan through this Test match was to get up their batters. Unfortunately for them, they got a few injuries out of it.

''I've done it in the past and it definitely helps. You don't have to get those last few wickets. I think that intimidation factor definitely worked out there today. We were able to keep on them and we bowled really well as a team throughout this whole Test match.''

Sangakkara was taken to hospital after retiring hurt on 27 on Friday, having been struck on the finger by a mean short ball from Johnson.

The veteran was the visitors' only passable batsman in Melbourne but they will not have him for the rest of the Test and limited-overs tour.

Johnson was far from gloating at inflicting such pain but there was a satisfaction in having caused so much trouble for an opposition team, aided in his attacking raids by the pressure applied at the other end by debutant Jackson Bird. He has done it on occasion in a career often dubbed erratic but hopes there may be more to come in his Test renaissance.

Johnson said he was a more mature player than in his previous international stint and had not been fazed by being left out of the Australian team in Hobart a match earlier, despite having been the team's best bowler on his Test return against South Africa in Perth.

''I know we've got a lot of young talent out there and the guys have been playing very well,'' he said. ''But to be honest, I hadn't watched a lot of cricket through my injury. I've always believed in myself and having the time off it freshened me up mentally and physically. I had never had any doubts that I could get back to the international level.

''I probably got to the stage where I listened to a lot of outside influences. That doesn't affect me any more. I'm just happy with how I've come back and just making the most of the opportunities that I get. I'm 31 now, I've been around the game for a long time.''

As Shane Watson considers his future as an all-rounder Johnson believes he can be a valuable option with bat and ball.

''I think I can become an all-rounder,'' he said. ''I've always enjoyed my batting, it's just being consistent with it. If I can take what I did out there today and yesterday into the future and be consistent with it, then I think I could become a good all-rounder.''

Australian captain Michael Clarke said Johnson had been quick after the conclusion of the Test to check on Sangakkara's health. ''The other side that a lot of people don't get to see of Mitch is that on the field he's as aggressive as anybody,'' Clarke said. ''But he's the first guy today to walk into the Sri Lankan change room and make sure everything's OK with Sangakkara.''

This story Bouncing bomb: pace attack targets soft spot first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.