Mitchell Johnson believes England have enormous mental hurdles to overcome if they are to keep the Ashes series alive in Perth, reckoning that Alastair Cook is contemplating retirement while the England captain Joe Root will be questioning his decision to send Australia in to bat in Adelaide.
As the spearhead of Australia’s 5-0 Ashes sweep of England four years ago, Johnson watched Steven Smith’s team train at the WACA Ground on Monday and said he could see major parallels between that series and this one in terms of the escalating mental battles being fought by the visitors. The 2013-14 series ended in the resignation of Andy Flower as coach, plus the withdrawal of Jonathan Trott from the tour and the retirement of Graeme Swann. Kevin Pietersen, meanwhile, never played for England again.
Having been in complete control of his mental and technical sides to dominate that series, Johnson said he could see England’s players doubting themselves and their decisions. “England will struggle mentally,” Johnson said about the remainder of the series. “You’ve got guys like Alastair Cook struggling. He can’t find form. And I’d say he’s thinking about retirement. He has played 150 Test matches; it’s got to take it out of you.
“Joe Root is the skipper, and there’s a lot of pressure on him with what’s happening outside the game but also winning the toss and what he did last game was debatable and that’s got to mentally take its toll on him as well. He’ll be questioning and doubting himself. We’re still talking about [Ben] Stokes and then there’s [Jonny] Bairstow who I thought was a little bit up and down, whether he was going to be their next senior player to step up, and we haven’t seen that yet. They don’t really have a lot going for them to be honest, and I can say that now sitting on the outside – its’ easier to say. That’s just what I see.”
Watching the series from the sidelines, Johnson also felt that the short ball in the hands of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins was also beginning to take an accumulating toll on the English psyche. “It’s not easy coming here [to Perth]. After seeing in the first two Tests, once the wickets had quickened up a bit – Brisbane, Adelaide – the short ball was really effective and this is not going to be any easier for them,” he said. “[From] what I’ve seen now the Australian team is focused on what they need to do. Very similar to 2013-14, we just knew we needed to prepare ourselves the best way at trainings and then get ourselves physically and mentally right for the game. And it wasn’t thinking we were 2-0 up, it was just starting a new game. Seems like they’re in that sort of mind frame too.
“England seem like there is a lot of stuff going on off the field at the moment for them. I think there’s a lot of distractions. Think they’ll be deflated from the last performance because it was talked about that was their best chance of winning in Adelaide: pink ball, conditions suited them more. And we saw what Jimmy Anderson did for the team: he bowled 11 overs straight when the conditions suited him and his bowling, which I found quite interesting [and] his comments after that as well.
“They were on a high and then to be deflated the way that they did, probably coming into the last day thinking they were going to win, and then for the Aussies to get that early breakthrough and roll through them, that’ll be mentally hard for them to come up into this Test.”
Currently in preparation for the Big Bash League with the Perth Scorchers, Johnson admitted he chose not to bowl to the Australians because he did not want to disrupt their current rhythm. “I definitely would have had a bowl, I’m in my season now,” he said. “Been bowling with a red ball at training down at my club, so would have been nice to come and have a bowl but, at the same time, I think I would have been a bit nervous if I did slip a short ball in especially not this part of the series, we’re going along really well.
“I didn’t talk to the bowlers about much, more how they’re feeling and giving a little bit of feedback on what I’ve seen. Just rhythm and lengths and stuff like that. I still think they’ll get better throughout the series. They haven’t all clicked together and, I think, once they do click, we’re going to see a pretty potent attack.
“The [quicks] all bring something different and the good thing about these guys is they’ve played a lot of junior cricket together, they know each other really well – which is a huge bonus, to be able to know your mate who you’re bowling with at the other end… you could sit at mid-on or mid-off and you’re helping your mate when he’s bowling in a spell, if he’s not going so well you know what to say to him, if he’s going well you know what to say to him.”