The Squire and Third Man have seen all the great ‘quicks’ produced by the game of cricket, from David Harris to … to Johnson. And their opinion? Johnson entertained them more than any other. And frightened them in equal measure.
This is a man who could bowl a short pitched ball which, depending on the random orientation of the seam, could lift off like Saturn spinning through space and still be rising as it flew over the keeper’s head thirty yards back, or stay, as if at his command, lower than the rolls of the batsman’s pads, OR heights anywhere between these extremes discombobulating the batsman.
And, depending on the point of release, he could fire the ball two yards outside off stump or two yards outside leg and any direction between those extremes … and he would frequently do so within a single spell.
His physique and deportment were those of the Olympic athlete. His approach when full out delivered him to the crease like a piston driven engine, and then there was that ‘curvy flick’ of a drag from the trailing leg that appropriately each ball wrote a question mark in the air an inch above the bowling crease.
His presence was both unsettling and somehow hilarious.
Throughout his triumphs and disasters he was both ‘good sport’ and ‘a good sport’. People laughed at him but only when he was down. They did so like children prodding a dead snake and running in panic and hysteria when it appeared to strike back.
In 2013 Lehmann rescued him from the wilderness of confusion and gave him back to lovers of fast bowling.
His destruction of Jonathan Trott that summer and winter must qualify as one of cricket’s great tragedies and rank alongside anything staged by the ancient Greeks. Here, before our eyes, was what CLR James had known.
And the puzzle and the delight?
Johnson, this incarnation of Nemesis, this deliverer of retribution, approached his victim in the form of a cartoon character. How modern is that?!