Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Visions of Mitch

Last April, I wrote something for The Cordon about how the Ashes would miss Mitchell Johnson. I'd like to claim great prescience in doing so, obviously, but that'd be as meaningful as the arrival of the Mitch bandwagon clattering into town. The nature of the man and the game suggest that what goes around comes around - and then goes around once more.

What's apparent about Mitch is that he is the kind of cricketer who has a hold on the imagination, or at least he does on mine. There's no single reason for that. Looking back through the history of this blog, there are some players that I write about again and again and others who are barely there, ghosts in the machine.

There's lots about Mitchell Johnson that exerts a grip.  No-one that good should be that bad for a start. The distance between his best and his worst, even his best and his usual, yawns wider than with most top-level cricketers, with their remorseless execution of skills, their slim advantages. Imagine facing a man capable of such great and terrible things.

He has fought his deep lows, come back with a new haircut, a new run-up. There's something man-made about his approach now, something mechanical, but it's followed by something fallible and human, that tremendous arcing swing that brings the ball out from behind his back while he balances for a second on the outside of his back foot. There's an extraordinary picture of it here, with Ed Cowan's rather wonderful piece about what it's like to be down the other end.

What nature has given Mitch is something that can't be coached; the ball arrives in the sightline so late it cuts down the reaction time of the batsman, it gives him extra heat. It's echoed in his batting, in that long swing when he's hitting down the ground.

So much of Mitch is at odds with the modern game, but strangely it's the modern game, with its science and its schedules, that has offered him his second chances, has salvaged him from his many wrecks. It's easy to project onto him, because he's more like us than most players. Relentless competence is the trademark of so many top cricketers; Mitch steps out in hope yet with no guarantees.

The beauty of blogging is that you can write what you want when you want, no deadlines, no editors. Some players and some events can just glide past without friction. Ian Bell is one for me - lovely batsman but inspires very little.

Instead, from this distance, they can be slightly unreal, like characters in a novel. They can be observed and read into. They can live a life other than their actual one, as Mitch does so well.


Anonymous said...

Punter wrote about how he couldn't understand how someone that gifted, such a natural cricketer, could have such little self-belief. If he drives fans mad, imagine being his skipper...

Sesh Nadathur said...

I know exactly what you mean! When he's on song, there's no player on either side in this Ashes that I'd rather watch. When he isn't, I'll be watching each ball from behind the sofa. Somehow the fact that he is so brilliant and yet so fallible makes me root for him with greater fervour.

Beautiful piece.