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Interview

Shirin Sadikot in Johannesburg

Chance to play with my childhood hero: Johnson

MI speedster relishes the opportunity to play alongside Tendulkar in CLT20

The beauty of certain things lies in their unpredictability, the inquisitiveness they generate in us, their ability to surprise us all the time. Mitchell Johnson has a similar effect on cricket followers. He’ll run through a batting line-up one day, and on another, his teammates will be running after the ball he just bowled. Although the captain doesn’t know which Mitchell Johnson is going to turn up on a given day, he will happily punt on this fiery fast bowler.

According to the man himself, though, his inconsistencies are more a perceived notion by the media than the reality. At the same time, he puts it down to the mental aspect of the game, which “is probably the biggest part of playing at this level.”

In a chat with clt20.com, this enigmatic fast bowler spoke of how his recent seven-month hiatus from cricket due to a foot injury came as a blessing in disguise. He touched upon the mental strength needed to succeed at the highest level. And his face lit up while talking about the prospect of playing in the same side as his “childhood hero” Sachin Tendulkar in CLT20 2012.

Excerpts from his interview:

Having played a few games after returning from injury, have you settled in your rhythm?

I had about seven months off and it was actually quite nice to get away from the game and see things from a different perspective. But it’s great to be back now. I’ve had a few games – been to the UK and played a few games in the Australian season that has just started.

You were to join the Mumbai Indians in 2012 IPL but couldn’t recover in time. How big is it for you to play for them in the CLT20?

It’s just really exciting to be part of this big tournament. It’s my first time with the Mumbai Indians. Hopefully, I get the opportunity to play alongside Sachin Tendulkar – a childhood hero. I’ve played against him and now I have a chance to play with him. It’s been a very long road back and there are big things ahead hopefully. I want to continue to perform at this level and do a good job.

What does someone like you, who has played international cricket since so many years, stand to gain from a tournament like this?

It’s just a new experience for me – playing with a new team, seeing things from their perspective, there’s lot for me to learn. There are a lot of experienced players here coming from different parts of the world and playing the game differently. One thing I’m really looking forward to is seeing how they play their game and gain something from that.

You’ve had a roller coaster of a career so far. Has it been tough to cope with it at times?

The mental side of things is probably the biggest part of playing at this level. I’ve had my ups and downs just like anyone else. The break away from the game was something that I needed. I guess the injury came at the right time but now I’m fresh and ready to go, I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing some of my best cricket.

As a fast bowler, do you have to be prepared to fight your own body time and again?

I had injuries when I first started playing. Once I got past them, my body got used to the rigours of fast bowling. Since then, I’ve only had a few niggles here and there. This was my only first major injury that kept me out of the game for so long. With the scheduling of international cricket and now a lot of Twent20 cricket around, being a fast bowler is getting more difficult. But you take care of your body and just the little things you do for preparing yourself for the match. I love it; I love the challenges that come with being a fast bowler and I wouldn’t change it for the world. As a fast bowler, you take control, bowl whatever ball you want. It’s great.

Sometimes do you get frustrated with your own inconsistency as a bowler?

I try not to read too much into it. It comes from the media. You have your good and bad days. I just try and keep them in perspective. I’ve had games where I’ve been outstanding, and these games stand out. The next game I get two or three wickets and it’s not good enough. That’s how I think it’s perceived, but I’m not worried about those things. If you get caught up with the media and the public, you start to believe things, which can affect your confidence and performance adversely.

You had a tough time leading up to the injury and you said it probably came at the right time. How have you emerged out of it?

This break has really helped me. My life’s balance is where I wanted it to be. I have been enjoying my cricket in the last couple of months and I want to continue doing so.

You’ve shared a close relationship with Dennis Lillee since the time he spotted you as a talent. What role did he play in your recovery?

He’s been a big part of it. I’ve done a fair bit of work with him over the past seven months and am still in contact with him; in fact, I saw him recently just before I came to South Africa. It’s great to be able to work with someone who’s had such a great career and who’s one of the all-time greats. I’ll always be grateful for having him as a part of my career. He knows me as a player and he understands what works for me.

What are the changes you’ve brought about in your technique post injury?

There were only little things, nothing major. One thing was my running – I’ve lengthened my run-up a little bit to get a smoother rhythm. That’s one thing Lillee suggested. Otherwise, it’s just about being tough as a player and the mental side of it.

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