Mitchell Johnson has bowed out of Test cricket with 73 Tests, 313 wickets at an average of 28.40 to his name, per Andrew Ramsey of Cricket Australia. He sits as the fourth-leading wicket taker in Tests for Australia.
That he even got this far is unthinkable, but testament to his tenacity and bulldog spirit that has made him one of Australia’s most successful bowlers. At the age of 17, he was spotted by Dennis Lillee. Lillee dubbed him a "once-in-nine-lives prospect." He soon joined the Australian academy and was off to tour England with the Aussie under-19 team in 1999. But injuries struck and he was bogged down. Johnson, though, was not one to take adversity lying down and he fought back and started playing state cricket.
It took another eight years for the prodigious youngster to make his Test debut, when he was still in the shadows of greats like Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee. Johnson’s career plodded along without really setting the world alight and when he had a horror year in 2011, where he averaged 56.61 with the ball, nobody would have imagined what was around the corner.
In the 2013-14 season, Johnson ripped apart the heart of the English batting attack and then South Africa. He took 59 wickets in just eight Tests at an average of 15.23. Menacing spells, which saw him take 12 for 127 against South Africa at Centurion at his peak, were surely the biggest highlight of such a varied career. By that time he was already 32 and his performance earned him his first Allan Border Medal.
In the last few months, Johnson’s career hasn’t exactly dwindled, but he admitted that he had pondered retirement after the recently concluded Ashes series. In October, he wrote a column for Fox Sports admitting that he struggled to sit around doing nothing, and that a goal is to "reach Dennis Lillee’s mark of 355 Test wickets."
He sounded like he could keep going until at least the end of the season, but obviously something cracked during this series and he called it a day, announcing his retirement in the middle of the series. The decision, some might say, is almost poetic as it seems almost as erratic as Johnson’s career, but what a career it has been and what a player he has been.
His career has had more ups and downs than any other fast bowler in his league, but no matter where his career took him, he did so with character.
With characters come differences of opinion. Some thought he was too aggressive, too chirpy, too this, too that, but everyone can agree that when Johnson was having a good day, he was in a league of his own. No batsman in the world would have chosen to face Johnson when he was on-song.
But as is the case when such mercurial characters call it a day, many will be wondering what Johnson could have been. If injury had not hampered him so early on, would he have gone on to overtake both his mentor Lillee and McGrath? If he had not suffered spells of nervousness, would things have been different? We'll never know the answers to these questions, and, perhaps, that is not such a bad thing.
There has always been air of mystique to Johnson and being left to wonder just how much greater he could have been "if" all the "ifs" did not exist, only adds to that mystique.
All information obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.