PREDICTABLY, Australian left-arm paceman Mitchell Johnson has been dropped from the team to take on England in the second Test in Adelaide.
Johnson returned figures of 0-66 and 0-104 in the first Test, was dismissed for a duck when he batted, and also dropped a catch.
When a team fares well below its best, someone has to be made the scapegoat. Ricky Ponting wasn’t exactly the wisest of captains in the first Test but he has escaped scrutiny.
But what of Marcus North? The left-hander has been having a dreadful time with the bat – but nobody is talking about the possibility of bringing in someone to take his place.
Let’s have a look at the two players, going back all the way to the middle of the year. In two Tests against Pakistan (played in England because of the security threat in Pakistan), North made 0, 20, 16 and 0. He got 6/55 in the second innings of the first Test and did not bowl in the other three innings. Johnson returned figures of 1/31, 0/74, 1/71 and 1/41. His best effort with the bat was 30. North was marginally ahead.
Australia then played a two-Test series in India. North made 0, 10, 128 and 3. He bowled in the first Test, getting 1/39 and 0/8. Johnson got 5/64, 0/50, 3/105 and 0/42 and scored 47 in one of the Tests. I would say that Johnson was clearly ahead in this series if one matches the two players’ performances.
Johnson’s performance in the first Ashes Test has been detailed above. North got 1, did not bat in the second innings, and took one wicket in England’s second innings, the only wicket to fall. Hence, that wicket was of no relevance; the only difference would have been that England would have finished with 0-517 instead of 1-517 and the England openers, Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook, would have become the holders of the record for the first wicket partnership in Tests, displacing Nick McKenzie and Graeme Smith of South Africa who hold the current record of 415, set against Bangladesh in 2008.
Remember one thing: North is primarily playing as a batsman and Johnson, despite having made runs on occasion, is considered the main strike bowler.
Has Johnson fulfilled his primary role? No. Should he be dropped? Well, yes, one can make a case for that. But then the same logic should apply to North. He has done as much as Johnson over the last five Tests, in fact, less.
The argument used to justify North’s inclusion is that there are not many options to fill his spot. Rubbish, there are plenty of batsmen – David Hussey and George Bailey, to name just two – who can fill the role of a number six. Hussey is 33 and Bailey is 28 – but remember, Australia once played a 38-year-old, Bob Holland, to try and defeat the West Indies in 1984-85. And who can forget Colin “Funky” Miller who made his debut for the country at the ripe age of 34?
Age is not a problem. Neither is the lack of batsmen. No, the problem is that cricket has been and will always be a batsmen’s game. The bowlers always bear the brunt when punishment is doled out.