Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sreesanth gives India total control

Sri Lanka 229 (Mahela 47, Sangakkara 44, Sreesanth 5-75) and 57 for 4 (Samaraweera 1*, Mathews 2*) trail India 642 (Gambhir 167, Dravid 144, Sehwag 137, Herath 5-121) by 356 runs

Indian cricket's prodigal son Sreesanth returned to international cricket in style with a five-for, and six wickets overall, to leave Sri Lanka staring at defeat in the second Test in Kanpur. Sri Lanka, forced to follow on after tea, were tottering in the second innings still 356 runs adrift with six wickets standing.

Though India's spinners and Sri Lanka's batsmen - the senior-most duo contrived a run-out while following on - contributed to the collapse, most of the work was done by Sreesanth, playing his first international game in 19 months. For nine successive overs in the first session, and for seven on the trot in the second, he ran in hard, hit the deck and found life in a slow pitch. He led the way in the second innings too, removing Tillakaratne Dilshan with a leg cutter, before Sri Lanka started to disintegrate against spin.

Mahela Jayawardene and Prasanna Jayawardene offered some resistance with a 60-run partnership in the first innings but Sri Lanka threatened to implode without much fight in the second. Tharanga Paranavitana was trapped by an arm-ball from Virender Sehwag and Kumar Sangakkara chopped a topspinner from Harbhajan on to the stumps.

However, the decisive moment of the collapse, and something that exposed the visitors' mindset, was the run-out of Mahela, the first-innings top scorer. Sangakkara pushed the ball to the right of a straightish midwicket and called for a suicidal run but Mahela had no chance to beat the throw from Yuvraj Singh. Perhaps the fact that they had lost nine wickets in just over two sessions and yielded their biggest-ever lead to India had knocked the fight out of them.

Or perhaps it was just Sreesanth. Green Park was where he played his last Test 19 months ago before disappearing from the sports pages and becoming an occasional feature on Page 3. Today, he stormed back, lifting India with spells that read 9-2-28-3 in the first session and 7-2-18-2 in the second.

His bowling was sublime through the day but the high point of his redemptive journey was the delivery that gave him his fifth wicket, a peach that cut away from the middle stump line to take out the off stump of the clueless Rangana Herath. The celebration was muted: a folding of palms in prayer and gratitude, the right hand raised to accept the high-fives from his team-mates and the face slowly creasing into a smile. It wasn't dramatic, it wasn't the usual Sreesanth theatrics that make him perhaps the most complex cricketer in this side. Today, those signature self-exhortations at the top of the run-up were rarely seen, as was any special celebration after a wicket.

It was all about the bowling. If he troubled the batsmen with seam movement in the morning, he found some reverse swing post-lunch with the old ball and continued to harass the batsmen. He got the big breakthrough of the second session when he terminated the fighting partnership between the two Jayawardenes. Prasanna had taken an aggressive route, slog sweeping and driving the spinners and, though he faced Zaheer Khan, he didn't have to play Sreesanth till he reached 35. Sreesanth probed Prasanna with 11 testing deliveries that included leg cutters, inswingers and a lovely inswinging yorker but Prasanna stood firm. However, Prasanna chased the 12th, a short and wide one, and got a thin nick through to the keeper.

That was a recurring theme. Sreesanth would severely test the batsmen with a cluster of good deliveries and would invariably pick up a wicket with one slightly wide from the stumps. His pace wasn't frightening (135 kmph was the average), there were no fiery bouncers and he didn't swing it around corners, but what he did was land each ball on a probing line and length, and cut it either way just enough to test the batsmen. He had his share of luck too - two batsmen played on off the inside edge - and Sri Lanka's batsmen didn't tailor their techniques to the demands of the pitch.

Instead of playing as close to the body as possible on a pitch with variable bounce, the batsmen erred by playing away. Tharanga Paranavitana was set up by a bouncer that crashed into his shoulder before he pushed at one cutting away from him. Sangakkara, who faced 24 deliveries from Zaheer Khan today, fell in the first over he faced off Sreesanth. Sangakkara played out three straight deliveries but was lured into a cover drive by a full and wide one, and ended up dragging it on to his stumps. Thilan Samaraweera was the next to go, pushing hard and early at a length delivery cutting away from him.

Not everything went Sreesanth's way though. He produced an edge from his best delivery but it didn't get him a wicket. Jayawardene, on zero, pushed at one that cut away late and got an edge but neither MS Dhoni nor Sachin Tendulkar at first slip went for the catch. It was the wicketkeeper's catch. Jayawardene got another reprieve on 25 when he edged a late cut off Harbhajan to first slip where Rahul Dravid couldn't hold on to a sharp chance. The same thing happened in the second innings too but it didn't matter on either occasion as Mahela couldn't carry on for long.

It was not a completely solo show by Sreesanth, though, as the debutant Pragyan Ojha kept things tight, allowing Dhoni the luxury to attack from the other end. Ojha also got the big wicket of the first innings when he beat the top scorer Mahela in the flight and produced a mishit to mid-on. Ojha also hastened the end of the Sri Lankan innings post-tea by trapping Muttiah Muralitharan in front but Sreesanth was undoubtedly the star today.

Pakistan threaten to run through NZ

Tea New Zealand 429 and 115 for 6 (Taylor 59, Asif 2-23, Aamer 2-24) lead Pakistan 332 (Umar 129, Kamran Akmal 82, Bond 5-107, Martin 3-63) by 212 runs

Rousing spells from Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif evoked New Zealand's famous second-innings collapses against Pakistan, and the visitors held the momentum going into the final four sessions of the Test. Aamer bowled two superb spells of swing bowling, the conventional variety leaving New Zealand at 0 for 2, and the reverse leaving the middle order befuddled even if it didn't get him a wicket. Asif took 2 for 2 in his spell before tea, which very nearly could have been three. When rain forced an early break New Zealand led by 212 with four wickets in hand.

Pakistan improved in previously slack areas: fielding and reviews. Khurram Manzoor hit the only stump he could see from square leg and ran out Ross Taylor, the only man who looked like he could score runs. Asif successfully challenged an lbw decision to dismiss Tim McIntosh, and nearly got another against Grant Elliott overturned in unique circumstances. New Zealand were 113 for 5 when a reversing delivery caught Elliott in front, but Asif couldn't get the decision from Billy Doctrove. The replays revealed a marginal no-ball, a minute part of his heel landing behind the line and then sliding onto it. If this was unique, Peter Fulton - low on form and confidence - did the bizarre. Suspecting an inside edge when given lbw off Umar Gul, he walked back unimpressed, holding his bat upside-down, but was only reminded of the existence of reviews by his team-mates when he was about to cross the rope.

Fulton was the fourth man out, with the score on 91, minutes after Taylor's attempt at arresting the all-too-familiar slide was ended in a misunderstanding. Yes, no, yes, no, and he was run out for 59 out of the 87 runs scored in the day. He was edgy, uncomfortable, and fortunate at times but still battled and scored quickly. Playing and missing against Aamer, getting hit twice on the body, edging to short of slip twice, Taylor even resorted to slogging Gul out of the ground. But just when he looked comfortable in the middle, having crossed 50 in just 69 balls, the run-out happened.

That doesn't take away, though, from the quality of bowling on display. Martin Guptill, on a warmer, stiller day, kept McIntosh - on a king pair - away from Aamer and took strike. But because it was warmer, Aamer got the ball to swing for the first time in the match. Four balls into the innings, New Zealand were 0 for 1 for the second time, the ball swinging in enough to take the inside edge onto the stumps. Daniel Flynn continued his horror Test - eight runs and a crucial dropped catch in the first innings - when he played across the line to a straight delivery, and was caught dead in front.

After the wickets of Taylor and Fulton, Aamer came back for a spell of reverse-swing that evoked Wasim Akram. From round the wicket he angled the ball into Elliott, and got it to move away repeatedly. Not just by fluke. McIntosh, who avoided the pair but didn't care much about scoring, survived twice shouldering arms to deliveries that jagged back in. After a spell of 4-2-2-0 from Aamer, Asif took over and did that extra bit to get the wickets.

The McIntosh one pitched just within the stumps and straightened a touch, and the confidence and awareness showed in the review. Moments after the other review fiasco, he ended Brendon McCullum's painstaking stay with a beauty, pitching one just short of a length, just outside off, and getting it to move away a touch. Rain, then, was a relief for New Zealand who had scored just eight runs in their last 13 overs. It was down to Daniel Vettori to dig New Zealand out of that hole. Again.

Gayle flies early in West Indies' reply

Tea West Indies 0 for 41 trail Australia 8 for 480 dec (Katich 92, North 79, Hussey 66, Ponting 55, Hauritz 50*) by 439 runs

Chris Gayle showed some serious intent as West Indies raced to 0 for 41 at tea following Ricky Ponting's declaration at 8 for 480. The captain Gayle arrived in Brisbane the day before the game and quickly shook off any batting rust with four boundaries in his 27 during a six-over surge.

Ponting surprised with his closure 35 minutes before tea after Marcus North and Nathan Hauritz added to the clump of local half-centuries. But it was West Indies who sparked a sleepy day into action.

Gayle opened with three crunched fours forward of point off Ben Hilfenhaus, prompting Ponting to take out a slip and put a man on the boundary, and he backed up by flicking Peter Siddle to square leg in a style only seen here when men from the Caribbean tour. There was a moment of danger when Gayle appeared to hurt his leg taking a single but after a short delay he returned to his cameo.

The debutant Adrian Barath was almost run-out attempting his first run in Tests, but his third scoring shot, an off-driven boundary off Siddle, was more satisfying. In the same over Barath (11) was lucky to escape when Siddle over-stepped and the edge was taken by a flying Brad Haddin.

North was patient throughout his display and was annoyed when he lapsed against the tireless Dwayne Bravo, who led the attack in Jerome Taylor's absence and collected 3 for 118 off 32 overs. What West Indies didn't need after picking up Haddin and Mitchell Johnson in the first session was Hauritz to produce his maiden fifty, although it did show how good the pitch was.

While North was careful in his 79 off 157 balls, Hauritz was happy to play his shots and peaked with a couple of pulls in an over from Bravo. Hauritz, who was dropped on 5 at second slip, is appearing in his first game at the Gabba since he was a Queensland representative and will hope his 50 not out will boost his bowling on a ground that hasn't been friendly to his offspin.

Australia resumed on 5 for 322 and North was watchful as he succeeded in pushing his team towards a significant total. Happy to nudge, leave and defend, he perked up with a crunching straight drive off Kemar Roach for four in the same over he was struck on the arm by a nasty short ball. It was hard work for North, who added 27 in the first session and was hit again on the arm by Bravo after lunch. He swung his bat in frustration at being tricked into following a wider ball from Bravo and Denesh Ramdin took a smart catch lunging to his left.

Haddin, who re-started on 9, felt he had found his groove with a breath-taking straight six off Bravo that followed a cut four, but he gave Ravi Rampaul his first Test wicket on 38 with an edge to Ramdin. The dismissal ended an 84-run stand with North and gave West Indies hope of a quick finish to the innings.

Johnson (7) called for a review after Ian Gould gave him out caught behind to Sulieman Benn. It was clear Johnson had brushed his pad in the defensive push, but the replays were not conclusive about an edge, so under the new guidelines the original decision stood and he left with Australia 7 for 386.

West Indies were already starting from behind with Taylor unable to bowl due to a left hip problem. He suffered the injury on the opening day and joins Ramnaresh Sarwan on the squad's injury list.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Paul Collingwood inspires England win in South Africa

Second one-day international, Centurion:
England 252-3 beat South Africa 250-9 by seven wickets

Paul Collingwood put in a brilliant all-round performance as England won the second one-day international against South Africa by seven wickets.

Collingwood hit an unbeaten 105, took a superb catch off AB de Villiers and had figures of 2-24 from six overs.

The 33-year-old found able support from Jonathan Trott, who hit 87 and bowled seven tight overs for 21 at Centurion.

Alviro Petersen and Hashim Amla hit half-centuries, but the hosts failed to end a miserable run against England.

England went into the match having won the last five completed meetings in this format, but with a much-changed line-up from the teams' last clash.

In September, England hit 323 to progress to the Champions Trophy semi-finals, but form and fitness meant only five of that team took to the field, Owais Shah not even in the touring party despite top scoring on the day with 98.

Collingwood, though, remained. He hit 82 in the Champions Trophy win, but eclipsed that by recording a fifth one-day international century in his record 171st appearance as England opened a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series following Friday's washout.

Blessed with neither the physical attributes nor natural ability of players like Flintoff and Botham, Collingwood is still so much more than a throwback to the distant age of "bits-and-pieces" all-rounders

More importantly he combined with Trott to suggest that for all the changes, England might have stumbled towards more of a long-term winning formula. The pair shared 13 overs, taking 2-45 and then recorded a 162-run partnership in good time to take the game away from the hosts.

Not that England should get too carried away. This was still a hard-fought win, the style of match set in the early overs with both teams feeling the other out at the belated start of a long winter of one-day and Test cricket.

James Anderson and Tim Bresnan found a hint of early swing, but South Africa looked relatively untroubled until Bresnan angled the ball across Graeme Smith and the South African skipper edged behind to Matt Prior.

Having nabbed the key wicket of Smith, England soon sent AB de Villiers on his way, South Africa's number three brilliantly caught off Anderson by Collingwood diving to his left in the gully.

That though, was to be a rare highlight in terms of England's catching and although South Africa's total was at best a par score, it could have been lower still had England not wasted a succession of chances.

Andrew Strauss was the worst culprit, dropping three presentable chances close in on the off-side, the first, off the bowling of Sajid Mahmood, giving JP Duminy a life on 23.

Duminy took advantage of Adil Rashid's lack of form, switch hitting a four and then lifting a six through the leg side, but he perished the following over, edging an attempted cut to Prior to give Luke Wright a thoroughly-deserved reward for a tight spell.

Duminy's departure allowed Strauss to bring on Collingwood and Jonathan Trott as South Africa, wary of a lengthy tail and with relative international novice Alviro Petersen joining Amla at the crease, looked to consolidate.

But their plan was to be ruined by poor stroke selection as the batsmen seemingly engaged in a contest to see who could be first to hand their wicket to Collingwood.

In the space of four balls, Petersen survived an lbw shout to a ball destined for middle and leg, got a third life when Collingwood inexplicably dropped a simple return catch and then watched as Amla prodded straight to Strauss at mid off to depart for 57.

Petersen hit a straight six off Collingwood in an attempt to relieve some pressure, but the bowlers held sway with the Durham man going at four an over and Trott racing through seven overs for just 21 runs.

Ryan McLaren did little to justify his promotion up the order, wafting a wide Anderson ball behind to Prior and 10 runs later South Africa were in serious trouble as Albie Morkel attempted a launch into the leg side off Collingwood and was superbly taken by a sprinting Eoin Morgan to leave the score at 165-6.

Six wickets should have become seven, Strauss the culprit both times as Petersen survived on 39 and 47. The first chance off Trott was sharp, Strauss unable to hold on as he dived in the covers, but the second off the bowling of Collingwood should have been a regulation take.

To compound the error, the drop deprived Collingwood of a 100th one-day international wicket and delayed his confirmation as the first Englishman to reach the dual landmark of 100 wickets and 4,000 runs.

In-between his moments of luck, Petersen showed glimpses of class with a pull for four off Trott and leg-side flick off Andersen, but he finally departed on 64, Bresnan taking potential dropped catches out of the equation by sending down a delivery that clipped the top of off-stump as South Africa laboured towards respectability.

To defend their total, South Africa needed early wickets and Dale Steyn nearly delivered inside the first over, beating Trott's outside edge with a stunning delivery first ball.

At the other end, Strauss appeared untroubled, twice wandering down the pitch to dismissively drive Charl Langeveldt to the fence before he tried the trick once too often and sent a leading edge to de Villiers.

On England's last tour to South Africa, Kevin Pietersen announced himself on the world stage with three centuries in six innings, finishing with an average of 151.

On this occasion, short of cricket in the build-up, the South African-born batsmen arrived to a chorus of boos, played one glorious shot through midwicket and then played across the line and saw his leg stump uprooted by Morkel.

Having dominated the middle overs with the ball, Trott and Collingwood looked to do the same with the bat, though it was heavy going until Colllingwood drilled Steyn for two fours to take England past the 100 mark in the 23rd over.

Paul Collingwood
Collingwood celebrates on reaching a superb century - his fifth ODI cricket

Trott brought up his first ODI half-century in only his second outing three overs later, but the attacking intent came from Collingwood, a free hit off Langeveldt hit for a straight six as he advanced towards his own half century.

The occasional rush of blood from Collingwood aside, England remained happy to milk the singles, forcing Smith to try the part-time spin of Duminy before calling on Steyn as soon as the new ball became available.

But, to use a sporting cliché, the faster it arrived the faster it disappeared, Collingwood disdainful in launching Steyn down the ground for four and then swatting through the legside to overtake his partner, the 150 partnership arriving in the following over.

Collingwood hit a second six off Roelof van der Merwe, but with South Africa looking resigned to defeat they finally broke the partnership, Amla diving forward to take Trott in the deep off Langeveldt.

However, any lingering hopes of a home win were eradicated when Morgan hit two fours on arriving at the crease and also survived being caught off a waist-high full toss, the delivery called a no ball after a referral to the third umpire.

The only question remaining being if, and when, Collingwood would reach three figures.

A scampered two took him to 98, a pull to 99 and, after Morgan dispatched McLaren for a six and four, he heaved through the onside to bring up his century off 108 balls before Morgan drilled the winning runs through the onside to finish on 22.

Play Bingo

Taylor and Guptill recover, build on

Tea New Zealand 171 for 3 (Taylor 85*, Guptill 60, Aamer 2-45) v Pakistan

Ross Taylor and Martil Guptill dug deep into their reserves of patience and judgement, and a bit of luck, to thwart the menacing Pakistan seamers, but Guptill once again fell to the pull just when it seemed the batsmen could start dominating the ball. It was a pitch made to order for seam bowlers, and all three of Pakistan quicks made life miserable for batsmen in the first session, reducing New Zealand to 27 for 2 before the 117-run partnership.

Mohammad Aamer, who struck first ball of the match with a yorker, came back and broke the threatening partnership. He combined well with Mohammad Asif, playing his first Test in more than two years, and Umar Gul. They bowled near-perfect lengths in the first session, bowling just short of a length and outside off, and letting the seam do the rest.

Aamer must have grown up - not sure if it is the appropriate term for the 17-year-old - watching Pakistan bowlers demolish New Zealand in New Zealand with swinging yorkers, and he did the same. It swung late into Tim McIntosh who got hit on his boot. The ball then went onto the bat, and through to the stumps.

Guptill looked to counterattack and use the short straight boundaries. It worked, as Pakistan looked for swing early on and bowled too full. New Zealand raced to 22 in four overs, Guptill to 18 off 17. Driving down the ground, and guiding through third man were the preferred shots. All three Mohammads combined superbly then: Yousuf put in a fourth slip to block the third-man gap, and Asif and Aamer pulled back the lengths a touch, having realised there was no swing to be had. It worked immediately: Asif caught Daniel Flynn on the crease, and the inside edge made it 27 for 2.

Then followed a testing period during which both Taylor and Gaultill played out of their skins. Taylor kept getting beaten outside off with Asif getting it to seam either way. Thrice he took his eyes off Aamer's deliveries, and took body blows. When Umar Gul bowled seven consecutive maidens, he hardly scored; his score read 2 off 29 and 6 off 44 at two different stages of the innings.

Guptill too had to get used to not getting anything to drive, and with the third-man gap plugged, scoring became an afterthought. Gul drew Guptill forward on the defence, and then suddenly mixed in the shorter ones. One such short delivery that seamed away a touch got the edge, but Imran Farhat dropped it at first slip. Five runs later, it was Gul who was doing the dropping: at the fine-leg boundary, a top-edge off Aamer, and Guptill had survived twice on 26.

After those two lives, both Taylor and Guptill opened up, and simultaneously Pakistan relaxed a bit too. Taylor punched well of the back foot, and Guptill got the driving length too. Post lunch, Yousuf didn't get the seamers to work in tandem. Saeed Ajmal bowled 13 straight overs in the second session. Given that there wasn't much wind, the move seemed a bit inexplicable. While Ajmal went at around two an over, he did make the batsmen feel comfortable, when compared with the examination that the seamers had put them through.

Guptill reached his first Test half-century, and Taylor - despite that uncharacteristic start - overtook Guptill at the 50-mark. Unlike Guptill, Taylor managed to play forcing shots off the back foot too, and during one period of acceleration that included a slog-swept six, he went from 19 off 74 to 51 off 97. Things would have been rosier for New Zealand had Aamer not struck in the first over of his third spell. He first hit Taylor in the back of the head, and then got Guptill to top-edge another.

Mendis and Sreesanth in as India bat

Toss India chose to bat v Sri Lanka

On a pitch that is likely to break up over the next couple of days, MS Dhoni won the toss and chose to bat in the second Test in Kanpur.

Though there was some grass cover on the pitch at Green Park, it was the obvious decision to make as the surface had a few cracks that the experts reckoned would widen and break up. The spinners are expected to come into play but the seamers too can be among the wickets on this surface with variable bounce.

India have made two changes: Sreesanth, whose last Test was here in 2008, replaced Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha came in for Amit Mishra, who took just one wicket in the Ahmedabad Test. Sri Lanka have gone in for three spinners as they have brought in Ajantha Mendis for the injured Dammika Prasad.

India: 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 VVS Laxman, 7 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Pragyan Ojha, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Sreesanth.

Sri Lanka: 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Tharanga Paranavitana, 3 Mahela Jayawardene, 4 Kumar Sangakkara (capt), 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), 8 Ajantha Mendis, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Muttiah Muralitharan, 11 Chanaka Welegedara.

Mitchell Johnson reveals Ashes demons

Mitchell Johnson has spoken for the first time of the personal turmoil that led to his stunning meltdown during the Lord's Test. In a frank and revealing interview, Johnson - the ICC's player of the year - conceded that a tabloid spat between his mother and fiancee played on his mind throughout the match, culminating in a performance so awry as to convince him he would be demoted for the ensuing encounter at Edgbaston.

Johnson's match return of 3 for 200 from 38.4 overs in the second Test played a significant role in Australia's eventual 115-run defeat to England. At the time, team-mates and staff sought to play down the link between Johnson's delicate family situation and his errant bowling, however he has moved to set the record straight on the eve of this week's Test against West Indies.

"I'm probably going back on myself a little bit," Johnson said. "I said in the past that I'd blocked things out. I guess it started off with the personal side of things. That probably really did get to me. I was denying it at the time, and copping it from the crowd didn't help, but mentally I've probably learned to be a lot stronger and just concentrate on what I'm doing out in the middle. This is what I have to do for a living and I have to leave everything behind me when I'm out there.

"I think that I block things out pretty well normally. It was just the Ashes: the whole hype of it and the personal things that came out. It was mostly through Lord's where I felt that pressure. Obviously I was a little bit disappointed in some of the games I played in. I'm not always going to be at my best. I think I probably put a bit too much pressure on myself with how well I did in in South Africa. Coming into that series I probably relaxed a little bit as well."

Johnson flirted with the selectorial axe after Australia's shock defeat at Lord's, their first at the venue in 75 years. Stuart Clark's precision appeared the ideal alternative to Johnson's waywardness, but Andrew Hilditch's panel pulled a major surprise by instead dropping Phillip Hughes and installing the relatively untried Shane Watson at the top of the order.

The move to call-in an allrounder provided Ricky Ponting with insurance in the event of another Johnson blow-out, and underlined the lengths Australia's selectors were prepared to go to accommodate their fragile fast bowler. That unexpected show of faith, Johnson said, went far to restoring his confidence for the final three Tests of the Ashes series and beyond.

"I definitely thought I wasn't going to play the Edgbaston Test," he said. "I was quite nervous about it. I'm glad I got that opportunity again. You just can't take anything for granted. I am glad I got that opportunity because who knows, I could have been back playing state cricket, which might not have been a bad thing. I could have been working on different things with my bowling. I'm glad I've been given that chance. I don't know what the selectors were thinking, I don't know what Ricky was thinking, if they were going to drop me or not. Just in my mind, I just thought that was going to happen.

"For those guys to have that confidence in me just gave me confidence as well. It made me think a lot more positively about what my role was in the team, so it definitely helped. I had a lot more confidence in Egbaston and then Headingley. I think sometimes I think a bit negatively with my bowling, and it can get me in a bit of trouble, obviously."

I definitely thought I wasn't going to play the Edgbaston Test. I was quite nervous about it. I'm glad I got that opportunity again. You just can't take anything for granted. I am glad I got that opportunity because who knows, I could have been back playing state cricket, which might not have been a bad thing. An unexpected show of faith went far to restoring Johnson's confidence

Johnson also admitted to mechanical problems during the Ashes series - low arm height and awkward wrist position among them - but insisted all could be attributed to a clouded state of mind. "It got technical because I was thinking about it, but in the end it was more of a mental thing," he said. "I had to concentrate on my bowling - where I wanted to bowl the ball and what I wanted to do, how I wanted to get these guys out. I just wasn't doing that. Definitely in the Lord's Test I was thinking about everything possible - I was thinking about my front arm, release point, swinging the ball, just everything. I probably concentrated more towards the end of the tour. I just forgot about off-field stuff."

The Australians are gearing for their first Test series since their Ashes disappointment, and Johnson is expected to headline an attack similar, if not identical, to that which slumped to defeat at Lord's. He is convinced the chastening experiences of four months ago have hardened the resolve of Australia's youthful bowling unit, all of whom are determined to re-establish themselves as an international force against West Indies from Thursday.

The first Test at the Gabba represents an unusual homecoming for Johnson - he originally hails from Queensland, but these days makes his home in Perth. He hopes his previous experiences of the Gabba wicket for Queensland and Australia will convince Ponting to restore him to the new ball role taken away from him in England earlier this year.

"I'm playing for my country, I'm a fast bowler and I'd love the new ball," said Johnson, who has taken 13 wickets at 12.69 in two Tests at the Gabba, including a nine-wicket haul against New Zealand last summer. "That's one of my goals: to open the bowling for Australia.

"Hopefully I can bowl a little bit fuller than I probably have in the past if I get the new ball or whatever it may be. You've got to be a touch fuller, just like the WACA. That's when you get your nicks and your lbws."

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