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19th Nov 2015

Mark Chapman: In praise of Mitchell Johnson, the pantomime villain who earned our respect

Mark Chapman

For the last eight years or so one of my jobs has been to ‘host’ the one day international cricket around the country.

That’s quite a grand way of saying ‘I tit about on the outfield and they film it and put it on the big screen.’

When you consider that I usually have to interview a few people dressed as Where’s Wally, compere a race between two giant inflatables and interview Nasser Hussain, you get understanding of how crucial a role I play in the sporting summer. I also have to read the teams out for the crowd.

<> at Old Trafford on June 23, 2015 in Manchester, England.

At Edgbaston in 2013, England were playing Australia in the Champions Trophy and having garnered Nasser’s thoughts I set about the team line ups. Progressing through the Aussie XI there was barely a murmur from the crowd and then I announced Mitchell Johnson.

Before I had even got to the ‘son’ loud boos rang out around the ground.

I giggled. On the mic, mid team line up I giggled.

I actually thought I had stifled it but Graeme Swann told me afterwards that they could all hear me laugh in the England dressing room.

The ICC told me off because I was meant to be impartial and not laughing at Australians. I don’t think it bothered Johnson himself because he came out and played up to the crowd.

He didn’t shirk fielding on the boundary and didn’t ignore the stick.

He actually conducted those in the Hollies Stand as they sang, he responded with a wave when asked and all with a big grin on his face. When he eventually stopped fielding on the boundary he was applauded by the fans.


The same thing happened whenever I saw him in the Ashes last summer. Crowds responded to him, he responded to them. Nothing too nasty.

Maybe you could go as far as to say there was a respect from the crowd. He was no longer a figure of fun.

When the English fans taunted him 2009, it was brutal. Johnson was struggling to land the ball on the strip and the ‘he bowls to the left, he bowls to the right’ rang out across grounds across the country. It was savage and he suffered. English crowds were pouncing on a young opponent obviously struggling mentally with his game.


By the 2013-14 Ashes series Down Under, he was a different animal. Fit, confident, older, faster.

He took 37 wickets in 5 Tests, was nigh on unplayable and scared so many English batsmen that Kevin Pietersen later wrote ‘I was sat there thinking, I could die here.’

As an Englishman watching it was painful, but as a soppy old sod watching someone fight back from the tough times to be a success it was uplifting.


And how he has retired with 313 Test wickets.

Not as a could-have-been, but as someone who fought back to prove himself to be one of the best fast bowlers of his generation.

When, or indeed if, he ever comes back to this country, I’m sure that song will still be sung to him, but it will be sung knowing that in the end he took that song and rammed it back down our throats.

Johnson was a supremely talented individual who eventually realised it and in so doing appeared comfortable in the role of pantomime villain.

And that is a huge compliment too. Cricket needs its pantomime villains. It needs those characters on the boundaries for the crowd to ‘interact with’. But they need to be confident in their own ability to pull it off. For it not to bother them.

Merv Hughes, Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne have all performed that role over the years and fans love it. We end up becoming fond of players who have actually caused us an awful lot of sporting pain.

Johnson thrilled us, scared us, amused us, battered us, was cowed by us and at times laughed with us. Not bad for somebody who six years ago we all thought was bowling shite!