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Johnson and Starc not suited to playing together

The Roar logo The Roar 16-08-2015 Ronan O'Connell
Questions have arisen over the performance of the Johnson-Starc duo. © Ryan Pierse - CA/Cricket Australia/Getty Images Questions have arisen over the performance of the Johnson-Starc duo.

Bowling in partnerships is a key to success with the ball in Test cricket. It’s no coincidence that Mitchell Johnson was at his ballistic best when operating in tandem with Ryan Harris.

The prodigious skill and ceaseless accuracy boasted by the recently retired Harris made Johnson’s sometimes wayward offerings more potent.

Harris choked the flow of runs to such an extent that batsmen were left to try to score off Johnson.

As a result Johnson earned many wickets of players who were trying to force shots off deliveries which would have been better left alone.

The enduring image of Johnson’s carnage in the 2013-14 season is of rearing bouncers being fended at and then caught.

Yet, in the 5-0 triumph against England at the 2-1 victory in South Africa that followed, he earned as many wickets from loose strokes outside off than directly from short balls.

Operating in partnership with a bowler the quality of Harris is a rare luxury. One of the best pacemen of the modern era, Harris was second only to South African champion Dale Steyn in effectiveness during his career.

Now, Harris is gone and Johnson has been relegated to first change, operating behind rising stars Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc.

Johnson, Hazlewood and Starc have formed Australia’s pace unit for the past six Tests on the trot. During that period, Johnson comprehensively has been outbowled by his colleagues.

He has snared just 18 wickets at an average of 31 in those matches, compared to 28 wickets at 18 for Hazlewood, and 28 wickets at 23 for Starc.

The stats are not misleading either. Johnson has not been able to match Starc for pace or swing, looking innocuous far more often than his fellow left-hander.

Hazlewood, meanwhile, often has shown up Johnson with his superior accuracy, bounce and guile.

It should be said of Johnson that he undoubtedly has matured as a cricketer. Where he once was easily rattled by opposition supporters or his own profligacy, he has appeared to maintain a solid focus this series.

Even with the blade he has shown more gumption than several members of the top six.

This has been an admirable transformation. It is results, not attitude, though, which will determine how much longer he remains in the Australian XI.

His problem right now is that the selectors may soon come to share the opinion of many Australian cricket followers – that he and Starc are not well suited to playing together.

When opposed to feeble batting line-ups like that put forth by the West Indies recently, then Starc and Johnson’s combined firepower outweighs any negatives.

It’s a different story against better sides, as we have seen in this Ashes. Faced with better equipped batting line-ups, building pressure is the most consistent method for taking wickets.

Hazlewood, when fresh, is capable of doing this, as is spinner Nathan Lyon. The issue comes when you have two bowlers in your attack who routinely operate as a release valve.

Many cricket observers, myself included, believe you can afford one such bowler but not two.

Australia’s next massive challenge will come this summer in six Tests home and away against the drastically improved New Zealand.

The dynamic Brendon McCullum aside, New Zealand’s excellent top six are patient and circumspect batsmen.

It was their more cultured approach to batting which saw them prosper where Australia have failed in England and in the UAE against Pakistan.

Trying to blast the Kiwis out may work in the first two Tests in November on the hard, quick decks of the Gabba and the WACA.

But beyond that, at Adelaide for the third Test and on the less responsive surfaces in New Zealand, Australia’s bowling will need to be less focused on brawn and more on accuracy and swing.

It is at this stage that Johnson will need to show a wider variety of skills than he’s displayed during this Ashes.

Starc has proved that he does not need pace in the pitch to be effective. If Johnson cannot do the same he may find that the selectors will not play both him and Starc.

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