A "mullygrubber" is a term coined by the iconic Australian cricketer-turned-commentator Richie Benaud and refers to a delivery which hits the deck, seeming like a bouncer, and rolls across to the batsman confusing him and everyone around. Expect the same with my blog posts on world sport.
“He bowls to the left,
He bowls to the riiiiiight,
That Mitchell Johnson,
His bowling is shite!”
Mitchell Johnson knew that he would be in for some stick from
the Barmy Army as soon as he took the new ball and marked his run-up in the
second over of England’s innings on Day Two of the first Ashes Test. He had,
after all, copped plenty of it during England’s last trip Down Under in the
Australian summer of 2010-11. Here’s another sample (one of the Barmy Army’s most
popular chants listed on their website, sung to the tune of The Adams Family):
“His mother hates his missus
His missus hates his mother
They all hate each other
The Johnson Family
de le la le de le la le de le la le”
Ever since being named ICC Cricketer of the Year back in
2009, Johnson’s form as swung from the polar extremes of aggressively accurate to
incomprehensibly wayward—Version ‘A’ and ‘B’. This was evident in the 2010-11
Ashes when he recorded contrasting figures of none for 66 and none for 104 at
Brisbane, and six for 38 and three for 44 at Perth in successive Test matches.
At Melbourne and Sydney, he conceded 134 and 168 runs respectively, picking up just
six wickets in total, even as Australia went on to lose the series 3-1. That
was when the Johnson chants were born.
Following a rather unremarkable 2011 and 2012, Johnson was
dropped from the Australian Test squad for the summer Ashes in England in 2013.
However, he took it upon himself to prove his detractors wrong and was the pick
of the bowlers (24 wickets in 17 games) in the Indian Premier League (IPL)
2013, where his franchise Mumbai Indians went on to lift the title.
It was almost a reborn, reinvigorated Johnson on display in
the limited overs circuit, for club and country. Johnson had added that extra
yard of pace to his aggressive left-arm fast bowling and begun clocking speeds
of 90 mph on a consistent basis. He troubled batsmen, the likes of Jonathan
Trott and Kevin Pietersen, during the one-day series that followed the English
leg of the Ashes, and then the superstar Indian batting line-up on sub-continental
tracks that were flatter than a highway. It was a given that he would be picked
for the return leg of the Ashes Down Under.
So evident was his transformation that even Sachin Tendulkar
couldn’t help but put in a word of praise for him during his farewell press
conference, when quizzed on the Ashes. Johnson was in every cricket writer’s ‘Men
to watch out for’ lists for the Ashes, and rightly so. On seaming, lively
tracks in Australia, Johnson’s version of frighteningly quick, aggressive, and short-pitched
bowling spelled trouble for the Englishmen. If there was a chink, it was only
his waywardness, his version ‘B’, which exaggerated when put under pressure.
Under pressure he was when England walked out to bat on Day
Two of the first Test at the Gabba, having dismissed Australia for a rather unimpressive
295. The Barmy Army was up on their feet and chirpy as ever as he ran up to
bowl to the left-handed Michael Carberry. His first delivery drew loud cheers from
the English support as it drifted down the leg-side. He was hit for three
boundaries by the English openers in as many overs, before skipper Michael
Clarke replaced him with Peter Siddle. Same old story, different day?
After being given some time to compose himself, Johnson was
brought back into the attack to expose Trott’s weakness for the short ball
after the fall of Alastair Cook. Johnson responded straight away as he banged
them in and had Trott hopping on his toes and protecting his visor. It wasn’t
long before he found the right-hander’s edge, which was caught by Brad Haddin
behind the sticks, moments before lunch.
The wicket set the tone for what was to be a spectacular
session of Test match cricket, well, at least for the Australians. England did
well for the first hour after lunch, cruising along at 82 for two, before
pandemonium struck the tourist camp. In a remarkable 10-over spell before tea,
England lost six wickets for just nine runs. England were to be all out for
just 136, losing nine for 81, out of which Johnson accounted for four.
The way he set up Trott, followed by Joe Root, with a relentless
line and length of short-pitched bowling, had the Gabba on their feet and in
full song. The Barmy Army, meanwhile, had gone quiet, wondering if they had
awoken a monster. Johnson finished with figures of four for 61, and even if it
didn’t quite match up to those of the pantomime villain from the other side,
Stuart Broad (six for 81), England were left hoping that this other side of Johnson’s
maverick personality dies away soon.
After the day’s play, Shane Warne told Sky Sports that England's inability to play
the short ball, and Johnson in particular, could be their folly:
“Australia had the X-factor of Mitchell Johnson bowling fast
- he was bowling consistently around 90mph plus—and he got it right. He looked
a completely different bowler; there was no-one who really looked comfortable
against the short ball.
“In terms of pace he’s up there with some of the quickest
I’ve faced in my time, but more importantly he put the ball in the right areas.”
In the right areas. That’s where Johnson will have to ensure
he bowls for the remainder of the series. He’s got the pace, he’s got the
length, he’s got the aggression; he’s even got a menacing handlebar moustache
look—his tribute to ‘Movember’; what he doesn’t have is the ability to maintain
that threatening line for a prolonged period. That being said, when Johnson is
up in the right spirits, as he was on Day Two, there is no stopping this rampaging
freight train. But will he be able to subdue his ‘Version B’? If he does, England
are in for some trouble, to say the least.
Manchester United's 21-year-old defender, Phil Jones, put in
an admirable and highly praiseworthy performance in the holding midfielder
position alongside Michael Carrick in their 1-0 win over Arsenal on November 10.
Given United's frailties in the middle of the pitch, Jones's performance has
provided fans with some hope that the midfield puzzle is nearly solved.
However, is it?
To say that Phil Jones was a beast is perhaps an overused
cliché. But no other word could possibly do justice to his performance for
Manchester United at Old Trafford against the top-placed Gunners.
Even though they were playing at home, United were well the
underdogs coming into the fixture, with Arsenal dropping just five points in
their opening 10 games and sitting pretty at the top of the table with a
yawning eight-point gap between their opponents, who were languishing in eighth
The battle, they said, would be won in the midfield. With
United still not having found their right combination and approach, following a
change in the manager's chair after their title-winning histrionics last
season, Arsenal were favourites coming to a ground where they hadn't won since
Arsenal's midfield was boosted by the acquisition of Mesut
Ozil over the summer, adding him to a potent formation including Santi Cazorla,
Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Mathieu Flamini. The Gunners were
expected to boss the inconsistent and unsettled United midfield.
David Moyes decided to go in with his usual 4-2-3-1
formation with Jones partnering Michael Carrick ahead of the defenders. Jones
was played out of his preferred position of centre-back, but lost no time in
settling in to his team's requirement.
Like a ravaging bull, Jones barged into a stunned Arsenal
and snatched the ball away at will. His interception, tackling and runs from
box to box were exemplary and allowed United to hold the strings for majority
of the match.
In the second half, when captain Nemanja Vidic left the
field with an apparent concussion, Jones was shifted to centre-back, while
Tom Cleverley took up the Englishman's position next to Carrick.
The difference was there to see as Arsenal began to snare
more of the possession and threatened to equalise as the match drew to a close.
But United managed to hold on to a priceless 1-0 scoreline and three points,
which reduced the gap between them and their rivals to five points and pushed
them up to fifth in the table.
Jones missed out on the Man of the Match award, which went
to Wayne Rooney who provided an assist to Robin van Persie's goal and was his
usual industrious self. But that didn't stop Jones from earning a lot praise
from the local press for his gallantry.
It also raised the question whether, in Jones and Carrick,
United had found their right defensive midfield combination. The duo complement
each other in their styles—while Jones is fast, aggressive, can tackle and win
the ball, Carrick is vision, touch and pass. To have that kind of a recipe to
support the attacking trio in the midfield ahead of them, Moyes seems to have
However, what United still lack is that touch of
creativity—something they haven't possessed since they sold Ronaldo to Real
Madrid a few seasons ago. It is still evident that United lack that penetration
into the opposition's box, and that is not something that their five-strong
midfield is able to provide.
Also, Jones himself prefers to play in the centre-back
position, as he confirmed after the match to Sky Sports: "I'm happy
with my own form. I'm pleased to be getting a bit of a run at centre-half.
"It's always nice to play in the position you feel most
comfortable in. I played in midfield against Norwich in the Capital One Cup,
but mostly it has been centre-back and that's where I want to be.
"When I came, it was always the plan to establish
myself as a centre-back and I hope to do it this season. If the manager keeps
faith in me, I'll make sure I can cement a spot there and get a good run
If United are to push for the title, they must look to find
or infuse that creativity in the middle. Jones may have done well in this game,
but do they have a fallback in case he is injured? Marouane Fellaini is still adapting
to the Manchester United way of life, Cleverley has not shown the same
promise as he did a couple of seasons ago, and Anderson remains average and
United need to provide Rooney an assistant in his push
towards the opposition box. Jones is good, but at the end of the day he is a
defender at heart. What United need is an attacking playmaker, and a quality
one at that.
Will Moyes find one in the January transfer window? If he
wants to get his United career off to a good start, he would hope he does.
A slightly mistimed, cheeky flick aimed to go past the slips, but didn't — that’s all
it took. It all happened in a matter of seconds, but as he trudged back to the
pavilion for probably the last time ever, those seconds were excruciating for
anyone who could distinguish the cricket bat from ball. The Wankhede was
stunned for a few seconds, almost until he had reached the edge of the
boundary, before it rose to salute and applaud their beloved son for one last
time. Others, who couldn’t avail of their sick-leaves in offices and schools, flocked
to the nearest television screen, radio or smartphone. Was it really true? Was
he really gone? Unfortunately, he was. But not before he gave us around 150
minutes of sheer pleasure to remember him by.
His 74 from 118 balls, spanning the better part of two
sessions, was neither his longest, nor best, innings out of the 781 he has
played in international cricket. But then again, no one expected him score a
century in his final Test, did they?
No, but we all hoped. And he teased us. He teased us
with some glorious punches through the cover off the backfoot, some orgasmic
straight drives placed perfectly wide of the fielder at mid-on and mid-off,
some delightful late cuts to third-man and some lovely flicks down fine-leg —
most of which resulted in boundaries.
He even teased the West Indians, especially fast bowler Tino
Best, who he tried to upper-cut a la Centurion many a times, but just about managed to avoid
the edge. Best wasn’t amused, and made his frustration evident. But the maestro
just smiled and patted him on the shoulder. Better luck next time!
He reached his half-century with a crisp straight drive just
wide enough to beat the outstretched hands of Best, before raising his bat to
salute his faithful, most of whom had stood by him unwaveringly for 24 years
through the longest of dry patches. Perhaps the longest was the one that
started after the hysterics of THAT early April evening in 2011, when he had
reached the ultimate pinnacle of winning the World Cup. It was at this very
ground that he had been paraded on the shoulders of his teammates.
He was never quite the same after that, apart from the day
he finally reached the momentous landmark of 100 international tons in 2010.
Perhaps it came a full circle today at the Wankhede, in what was a hastily organized
farewell by his country’s board. He had been told: It’s your final chance; make
the most of it.
They say that a flame flickers brightest just before it extinguishes.
He had once said in a television interview that cricket “was like oxygen” to
him; without it, he would be dead. For him, retirement would be like death.
November 15, 2013, Sachin Tendulkar’s career was on life support. His body and
mind knew that the end was here. But he was not going to go away without a last
few gasps at that heavenly oxygen. And just like the human body tries to fight
its hardest before death, Tendulkar took to the crease like a possessed being.
He was determined to prolong the end, and brought out glimpses of his best.
Sourav Ganguly, who had batted with him so many times during the good ol’ days,
couldn’t help but remarking in the commentary box: “I’ve seen him bat so well
after a long, long time.”
And then, just when we had started to hope that the flicker
would transform into a raging fire, it was gone — 26 runs short of setting the
Wankhede alight. There was no question of reigniting it. There would never be
an encore. There would never be any more schadenfreude at the fall of the
second wicket. There would never be any more mini-squats before taking guard. There
would never be any more magical flicks off the hip, paddle-sweeps and cover
drives. No longer would schools and offices be empty on match-day. No longer would the television be switched off at his dismissal. We always knew it was coming, but nevertheless
that didn’t prevent it from being the rudest of shocks. He was gone…for good.