MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The spirit of Mitchell Johnson could return to haunt England’s batsmen during the Ashes in the form of another left-arm paceman, Mitchell Starc, according to former Australia fast bowler Ryan Harris.
A rampaging Johnson took 37 wickets at an astonishing average of 13.97 to fire Australia to a 5-0 whitewash in the 2013-14 series Down Under, leaving mental scars on a number of the tourists’ batters.
Australia spearhead Starc had a similar volatile mix of pace, swing and bounce to be a Johnson-style wrecking ball in the series that started in Brisbane next week, said Harris.
The 27-year-old has also been in ominous form, capturing 17 wickets for New South Wales in his two Sheffield Shield warmup matches.
“He’s definitely got it in him. I’ve just spent some time with him. He’s bowling fast,” Harris told Reuters in an interview from Brisbane.
“He probably had a little bit of an issue over the last few months with not swinging the ball as much as he’d like. But giving him that red ball, he’s probably as consistent as I’ve seen him for a while as well.
“He’s got the pace of Johnson, he moves it both ways, exactly like Johnson does, and doesn’t even know he’s doing it.
“He’s also got that brutal yorker that he can pull out when he wants. So, I’d love to see that happen again, someone rip through the English again and put a bit of fear in the back of their minds.”
Along with Peter Siddle, Harris was on hand to witness Johnson at his destructive best as a member of the pace trio in Michael Clarke’s Australia that captured all 20 English wickets in each of the five tests.
Johnson set the tone early in the opener at the Gabba, taking nine wickets in a short-pitched blitz that set up a 381-run battering against the shell-shocked touring party.
The mustachioed Queenslander remained a problem throughout the series for England’s batsmen, who tried in vain to adjust but ultimately had few answers.
“Once Mitch got on a roll it was very hard for them to stop him,” said Harris, now a high performance coach at the National Cricket Centre in Brisbane.
“I reckon it put a little bit of fear in their minds and fair enough. It was bloody fast bowling. Fast bowling at it’s best.
“That was genuine pace and they had no way of combating it. Even talking to their old bowling coach (David Saker) who was there at the time, they just didn’t know how to stop the rot.”
Harris was the second highest wicket taker of the series with 22 victims, while Siddle grabbed 16 in vital support roles.
It was a triumph built on excellent camaraderie between the three quicks, said Harris, a quality he was confident Starc would share with his fellow test pacemen and New South Wales team mates Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.
“I remember Michael Clarke sitting the three of us down and telling us what he wanted of us, that he wanted us to be close to each other and talking to each other all the time about good and bad things, and how he wanted us to be a team within a team,” added Harris.
“For us, it wasn’t necessarily about taking wickets, it was about bowling dots (non-scoring deliveries) and putting pressure on at the other end,” he said.
Earlier this week, Cummins, the youngest of the trio at 24, declared himself keen to repeat Johnson’s feats in the upcoming series, but Harris cautioned the bowlers to focus on helping each other.
“To be successful you’ve got to be prepared to bowl and not necessarily take the glory but just help your mate out down the other end,” he added.
“If they bowl in those partnerships, they’ll get the rewards. It is an exciting attack.”
Editing by John O'Brien