Blood was drawn, skulls rattled, and the world’s No 1 Test team dismantled as Mitchell Johnson fired Australia to a 281-run win over South Africa.
The Proteas were rolled for 200 after tea on day four at Centurion, where Johnson snatched five wickets to finish with his greatest Test cricket figures of 12-127.
This statistic alone suggests Johnson took his incredible pace bowling to a higher level than the Ashes, as bowling coach Craig McDermott intimated in the lead-up.It was also the best figures recorded at the venue, previously a fortress for the Proteas.
But what the record books won’t show is Ryan McLaren’s blood on the pitch, Robin Peterson’s instinctive shuffle to leg side, Vernon Philander’s jarred fingers and Hashim Amla’s splitting headache.
It won’t show just how unplayable and aggressive Johnson’s two new-ball spells were. This was frightening.
It started with Johnson’s first over after Michael Clarke declared 3.2 overs into day four at 4-290, setting the hosts a target of 482 and an impossible challenge of lasting six sessions on a bouncy wicket.
There arguably hasn’t been an Australian as intimidating with the red ball since Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee.Others have generated Johnson’s plus-150km/h speeds, but none has been as accurate and consistent.
None so ruthlessly mauled a great team that had lost one of their past 19 Tests, a side renowned for doggedness that did well to make it into a third session.
None lorded over an entire XI, even AB de Villiers who offered the most resistance but was twice dismissed by Johnson.
‘‘It’s an amazing skill to be able to bowl fast, but it’s being able to hit that mark as often as Mitchell does that’s class,’’ captain Clarke said.Johnson suggested once he retires he may revel in the likely piece de resistance of a career that almost stopped when he last left South Africa, in 2011 with figures of 3-255 from two Tests, a broken toe and much melancholy.
But for now the 32-year-old’s only focus is on inflicting South Africa’s first Test series loss since 2009, a feat the visitors can achieve in the second Test starting on Thursday in Port Elizabeth.
‘‘I said to Michael [Clarke] after the first innings that there was definitely room for improvement,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘I’m still going to be trying to improve throughout the series.
‘‘You never play a perfect game, but it felt pretty good out there today.’’
Short leg Alex Doolan clutched two sharp catches to hand Johnson wickets, including that of Graeme Smith who again departed after two balls from the left-armer.
Amla saw off Johnson’s opening spell but perhaps suffered the most, the No.3 batsman’s head snapping back violently when a ball cannoned into his grill.In the pre-helmet era he likely would have lost conscious, as would McLaren who was cut behind the ear by another dangerous bouncer.
‘‘It’s a nice feeling,’’ Johnson said.
Smith admitted Johnson was the difference, but denied he had created mental scars.
‘‘He’s hot at the moment and we need to find a way to curb that and put him under pressure,’’ Smith said.
‘‘There’s going to be a lot of criticism.‘‘We didn’t meet expectations in this game and we deserve every bit.’’ - AAP