The Australian camp are continuing to talk up under-pressure paceman Mitchell Johnson, and the reason……he is the key man for the tourists’ hopes of retaining the Ashes.
The left-armer has endured a below-par series to date, ending with figures of 5-131 in the first Test in Cardiff and 3-200 in the second Test defeat at Lord’s.
With the experienced Brett Lee still missing with a side strain and talk mounting he will sit out the series, the pressure continues to mount on the shoulders of the 27-year-old Johnson.
Australia were hoping a run out in the tour match with Northants would boost their strike bowler’s confidence but, if anything, it made things worse.
Despite a Mike Hussey-led team winning that match by 135 runs, Johnson took 1-107 and the rest of the camp were left to defend the Queenslander, in the hope he can recapture the form he showed in Australia’s series win in South Africa.
Australia coach Tim Nielsen admitted: “At the moment it hasn’t worked for him. But that is the challenge of this game.
“You don’t walk out every week and get the results you’d like. But the good players who last for long periods of time have to keep ‘fronting up’.”
So far he has taken eight wickets at 41.37 and although there is speculation that Johnson’s place is under threat with the potential return of Stuart Clark and Shane Watson, Australia can’t afford to make that change.
Clark and Watson have shown in the past that they are more than capable at Test level – they are steady, consistent bowlers in the same vein as Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle, but they are not match winners.
The only game-changing bowler that Australia possess, in the absence of Lee, is Johnson and Ricky Ponting needs him to respond……and quickly.