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Before he sustained the toe infection, Mitchell Johnson was riding the highest high of his career, demolishing batting line-ups for fun with venomous speed and surgical accuracy. He won Australia the Ashes and brought South Africa on their knees.
The Pepsi IPL was soon approaching and Johnson was still recovering from the infected toe. After a couple of subdued performances, the Australian speedster was back in his elements as KXIP defended a modest 132 against KKR to win their fourth match in a row.
Johnson opened the bowling with the intent of a predator, making the batsmen hop and skip off his sharp short balls. He created the pressure off which the likes of Sandeep Sharma and Akshar Patel fed. In the end, he returned, like a showstopper and rattled the stumps of two KKR tailenders. It weren’t the wickets that were as important as the fire in his eyes and the passion in his roar during his spell of 4-0-22-2.
After the win, Johnson spoke to iplt20.com and he sounded a very proud, motivated and confident man.
Here are excerpts from his interview:
Is it safe to say now that KXIP are the most balanced side in this IPL?
I remember sitting around with the Australian team on our tour to South Africa, watching the IPL auction. When it came to an end, I actually said that this seems like a very well-balanced and all-round side. It seems to be going on that way for us at the moment. We’ve had some very good wins and tonight’s was one of the better ones. On that Abu Dhabi wicket, I think we pretty much got a par score and it was always going to be tough batting second on it. We’ve been sticking to our guns and have been going really well.
Did your role differ in today’s match? You seemed to be concentrating on creating pressure with bouncers.
Yes, I’ve started the tournament quite slowly, coming back from my toe infection and it has taken me a few games to get into it. Probably the best I felt with my bowling was during the training yesterday; I felt like I am in my cricket mode again. Today I felt I was back to bowling like I had been bowling for the past few months. That’s where I wanted to get to – bowling as aggressively as I was a few days ago.
Was it a mental ploy to deny Gautam Gambhir his first run, given he was coming in with three ducks in a row?
Yes, I have played a fair bit against him and I’ve always enjoyed bowling to him. If you get the ball to move away from him just a little bit, you’re in the game. He is a very good player and it is important to keep the good players out of the game as much as possible. I didn’t have to bowl too much to him today because our bowlers were exceptional tonight.
Have you undertaken a bit of leadership role as the most successful international bowler at KXIP?
Yes, that is something I had thought about doing before coming here and I spoke to the team about taking up that role as a senior international player. These young guys coming through are willing to learn and are very good listeners. I remember what I was like when I was their age – you look up to the senior guys for a bit of advice. Sandeep (Sharma) went for a couple of boundaries in his last over (18th of the innings) and I told him, ‘Just keep sticking to your guns’ because that’s how you learn to overcome situations. If I can keep helping the young guys, we will keep winning like this.
Do express pacers like you even care about the strategy of taking the pace off the ball and stuff?
We definitely do. When we are bowling second, like we did today, it is a good opportunity to learn from our batting and their bowling in the first innings and use it to our advantage. For instance, after the first innings, we heard what Mitchell Starc thought about the wicket and how he tried to bowl. He did pretty well and that gave us that much more idea.
How does the use and purpose of a bouncer change in T20?
Since you are allowed only one bouncer per over in the T20s, you have to be careful. I still try to use it to get the batsmen thinking on their feet and let them know they’re not going to always get balls on the half. It’s more about mind games in the T20 format. Overall, you can still bowl a good short ball at the ribs and get the desired result. Guys will go for more attacking shots off short balls in this format and that makes it an interesting delivery to bowl. It makes the contest between the bat and the ball more enjoyable.
When Kane Richardson removed Yuvraj Singh and AB de Villiers off successive deliveries to leave Royal Challengers Bangalore at five for four after 2.2 overs, he pretty much sealed the fate of the match in Rajasthan Royals’ favour.
After his performance of two for 18 in four overs, Richardson must consider changing the bio on his Twitter profile, which currently says, “I am not Kane Williamson”, for no one will now mistake the bearded Aussie pacer for the diminutive Kiwi batsman.
Post RR’s comfortable six-wicket win over RCB, Richardson spoke with iplt20.com about the brilliant day his team had on the field.
Here are excerpts of that interview:
Did something get into the RR bowlers or the RCB batsmen today?
That’s a good question. It’s just one of those days in T20 when things go your way and it snowballs from there. To get two wickets in the first over with one run-out was a bonus. There were some poor shots from them, I will be the first one to admit that, but we are not going to complain about that. When you are chasing 71, you expect to win the game, going four down and winning it, we are happy.
Not many convincing shots were played off the bat. Was the wicket that difficult to bat on?
I think it was a bit slow, but over here you kind of expect that. In the game between CSK and KXIP, both team scored 200-plus. Today, it was much different, but still the new ball came on to the bat pretty well as it showed when we batted. For RCB, after being four down, it was hard to come back into the game.
Is bowling back-of-a-length without giving much pace the wide bowling plan?
It was definitely the case in the last match, against CSK. I didn’t play, but the boys seemed to apply that strategy quite well. We continued with that plan in this game as well and it is definitely a strength of ours. But we also have to keep adapting to the batsmen we bowl at. At the moment, it is working pretty well for us.
The ball that got Yuvraj was only 130 kph. Did you expect that one to go to the slips so quickly?
I didn’t bowl quickly today and just let the pitch do its bit. There was also a touch of swing in the wicket and it worked in my favour. Yuvraj was a big wicket, along with AB (de Villiers), and formed the big three in the middle order with Virat. To get Yuvraj and AB in quick succession was a huge blow because it left Virat with a bit too much to do.
And you surely didn’t expect AB de Villiers to hit that shot, did you?
I didn’t. I was just trying to hit the stumps, but failed to do so. Luckily, he chopped it on. That’s cricket.
Do you think it has been advantageous for you to have an Australian captain with this team?
Definitely. The communication barrier drops down. Having said that, Shane is new to the job as well, but he has adapted quickly. I am new in the Royals camp, but he has taken me on board and given me confidence.
As a pacer, are you missing someone like an Allan Donald by your side this year?
I do and he was an amazing influence last year with the Pune franchise. But here, the good thing is that I am pretty much on my own. I have to learn and think for myself. If I can start doing that at 23, it should help me in the long run.