Mitchell Johnson’s hostile spell of fast bowling against the Proteas has served as an important and timely reminder that scariness still matters at the elite level.
Being scary is important in sport. It’s especially important in amateur sport.
Back at university, I stupidly decided that I wanted to play rugby league, despite my body type at the time being more Bruce Reid than Anthony Watmough.
As a youngster, my idols included the great Canberra legends such as Ricky Stuart, Laurie Daley, Brad Clyde (who I recently encountered at hipster hangout The Rose in Chippendale; check our Twitter page for photographic evidence) and Mal Meninga.
Turned out that playing rugby league is scary. The Tertiary Cup itself was a misnomer; I would say that less than 25% of all players actually attended university. I, a 19-year-old freshman, was suddenly coming up against real men in their mid/late-20s, all of whom had significant levels of natural man-strength that I was yet to acquire.
I played with teammates who would deliberately induce themselves to vomit before a game in order to expel the nervousness that comes in knowing you’re about to play rugby league against a number of recently paroled 32-year-old ex-Silverwater inmates. This had a tremendous mental impact on me, obviously.
But test cricket, unlike amateur sport, is a level playing field. And that’s why Johnson’s scariness – which is not virtue of having superior size or strength on his opponents – is all the more impressive.
The facial hair helps, sure, just like it did for Hitler, Stalin, Castro, et al, but I wouldn’t say it’s his most intimidating feature. Much like INXS’ Michael Hutchence, it’s the way he puts it all together that makes Mitchell Johnson so fearsome.
He is erratic – and that’s a good thing. Unpredictable and loose, like a tattoo-laden mixed martial arts douchebag on the lookout for his next one-punch victim. His slingshot action also enables him, when on song, to extract frightening Nadal-like whip in his delivery.
Johnson was able to run through the weak English line-up at home on Australia’s fast bowler-friendly wickets, but many doubted he could do it against the battle hardened South Africans on their home soil. But he has – and it’s awesome.
Sure, the pleasure I am currently deriving from watching one elite sportsman induce other elite sportsmen into a collective state of paralysed fear might be perverse, possibly pseudo-masochistic. But here’s hoping Johnson’s fearsomeness lasts for South Africa and beyond.
By Dave Edwards