Mitchell Johnson is a cinch to be named man of the series. It’s a neat moniker, reward for domination. In Johnson’s case, it is reward for persistence. He overcame humiliation, injury and exclusion to brutalise England.
Johnson can also thank injury for his resurgence. Had James Pattinson, Jackson Bird and Mitchell Starc been fit, Johnson might not have played a Test, and the Ashes might’ve been different.
Starc was preferred to Johnson for Australia’s tour of England. Starc is a poor man’s Mitchell Johnson, but at the time, Johnson was a poor cricketer. The rebuttal was fair.
With 32 wickets at 14, Johnson has won the Ashes with pace, but it isn’t just speed that terrorised England. At 32, Johnson turned time on its head, bowling with everything that deserted him during the horror years, accuracy and length.
Enforcement is his role, but John Inverarity must’ve been nervous before the first Test in Brisbane. Johnson couldn’t enforce if he was erratic.
The selection gamble paid off. Inverarity must be pleased. In the past year he has gambled often. Only now, following defeat in India and England, is it paying off.
He also gambled with Brad Haddin, and his performance, particularly with the bat, should be good enough to claim the man of the series award.
Johnson might’ve hammered the Poms, but Haddin has provided leadership, stability and a mountain of runs, 465 at 77.
During his innings in Sydney, Quentin Hull told ABC listeners that Haddin has been at the crease for 46 percent of Australia’s runs, which shows how deep Australia has been in first innings trouble during the series.
In Brisbane, Australia was 5-100 when Haddin strode to the crease. He was last man out at 295. In Adelaide, Haddin walked in at 5-257 and walked out at 6-457.
In Perth, he was in at 5-143 and went out with Australia 6-267. He batted sensibly again in Melbourne, coming in at 5-122. He was last man out at 204.
In Sydney, Haddin took guard with the score at 5-97. He was out with the score more comfortable, at 6-225.
He has featured in four hundred-plus partnerships that have saved Australia and turned each Test. He has taken 18 catches in the series. His wicket-keeping has been exceptional. Perth was a standout.
When Haddin quit the West Indies tour a few years ago to be with his family during a crisis, it was assumed he had played his last Test. At 34, he seemed almost at the end anyway, and Matthew Wade did a reasonable job in the Caribbean, scoring Australia’s only Test century during the tour.
Last summer, against South Africa, Wade’s batting and keeping suffered but Haddin remained on the outer during Sri Lanka’s tour.
Then Mike Hussey suddenly retired. Two things were clear. Australia needed an injection of gritty experience, and Matthew Wade needed time out.
Re-enter Brad Haddin…
As Haddin rebuilt Australia’s innings in Sydney, Drew Morpett asked Geoff Lawson to refute rumours that Haddin was going to retire after the Test. Speculation was rife. Lawson wasn’t sure.
Later, Kerry O’Keefe suggested that Haddin had timed his retirement deliberately. ‘He wants to go out with me,’ O’Keefe said. ‘A dual retirement.’
Lawson was unequivocal. ‘They both should go on,’ he said.
At 36, Haddin is batting better than ever, and his keeping cannot be faulted. During the first day of the Sydney Test, Ed Cowan said Haddin’s leadership, rather than batting and keeping, defined his re-emergence.
Haddin has stabilised each Australian first innings, something no other batsman has done. He has taken routine catches and a few blinders, Root and Stokes in Perth come to mind. He is mute in celebration, like he just found a two dollar coin.
Batting milestones, however, are better accepted. Haddin is employed to take catches and make runs. In the past, he was a better catcher. In the Ashes series, he is loving the run-making.
Understated, underrated because Australia was spoiled by Adam Gilchrist, Haddin has not won a man of the match award during the Ashes. He has batted brilliantly with the middle order and the tail, solid in defence, expansive in attack and pushing the run-rate.
He has provided backbone, hope and pleasure.
Mitch Johnson deserves the man of the series award, but, regardless of the result in Sydney, when the series is over, Brad Haddin should be lauded like Johnson.
Many cricketers, like Justin Langer and Jason Gillespie, are not appreciated until they retired.
Haddin will be another. He could never match Gilchrist, no one could, but he will be remembered in his own right, not as man of the series, but a man who could’ve been.