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Perspective

16 Feb
Mitchell Johnson has more than his moustache to thank for his rejuvenated career

Mitchell Johnson has more than his moustache to thank for his rejuvenated career

In 2012, Mitchell Johnson was at a crossroads in his career. After starting with such a bang he had faded to so much that he had become an international laugh stock. He was humiliated on and off the pitch and for anyone that is a tough spot to be in, but for Johnson – not the toughest mentally who put lots of pressure on himself – it was nigh on unbearable.

Enter Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith. An Australian soldier who won both the Medal for Gallantry and the Victoria Cross for Australia, ‘RS’ saw plenty of action in Iraq and Afghanistan and became a celebrity both in Perth, his home-town, and Australia as a whole. Johnson and Roberts-Smith met two years ago when Johnson was looking to anyone he could for help – and he found what he was looking for. Essentially, Roberts-Smith brought out the mongrel in Johnson that was lurking beneath the surface, and turned the boy who is, by all accounts, a perfectly pleasant person, into the man who has no remorse for the damage he can inflict with the ball. The talent was always there, but it just needed to be coaxed out of him.

Most important of all was the lesson of perspective. By teaching Johnson that there was more to life than cricket, and that there are people who have things considerably worse, the pressure was lifted from his heavily tattooed shoulders, and the burden was gone. This eye-opening realisation can come in various forms.

Stress-related illnesses can take down people in all professions and cricket is no different – so when Jonathan Trott returned home from the recent Ashes tour there was plenty said about the health of someone being infinitely more important than the result of a cricket match. And although the tour was disastrous, the felling of a giant of English cricket in such a way asked new questions of the training regime and intense playing schedule that England undertake. As a result, the coach who implemented the regime left his post, and English cricket is due a major environment upheaval.

Key to that upheaval will be captain Alastair Cook, who was half the cricketer he can be on that tour. Leaving Australia in early 2014, he returned to his farm in Bedfordshire with his pregnant wife. It has been widely reported that he enjoys taking his mind off cricket by lambing and with a lamb of his own on the way he will undoubtedly see that there is more to cricket, even after a tough day on the pitch.

Yet there are times when an incident which should lend perspective fails. New Zealand batsman Jesse Ryder was assaulted following a night out and left in a coma in 2013, a serious attack which threatened his life more than his career. He recovered sufficiently to make his return for the Blackcaps but, on the verge of a Test recall against India and being named in the World Twenty20 Cup squad, he was reprimanded following a late night out in Auckland. Dropped back to domestic cricket and not named in the World Cup squad, Ryder has set his own career back immeasurably after this indiscretion – the latest in a litany of alcohol related issues.

Obviously it is wrong to make assumptions on why Ryder breaks rules and damages his career, but following the attack on him last year he gained a huge amount of support from around the world. It would be disappointing if he can’t back up his talent with the maturity required to make it on the international stage.

Perhaps what Ryder needs is a mentor from outside the world of cricket. Johnson’s meeting with Roberts-Smith, however it came about, was the spark he needed to reinvigorate his career and rediscover his love of cricket. If Ryder and Cook can do the same they’ll be better for it.

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