Mitch a match for duo
Mitchell Johnson has big boots to fill following the retirement of Glenn McGrath but he is up for the task.
Last Updated: 29/06/09 3:06pm
Spend long enough in the right sports bars or pavilions and you are sure to hear the following thought expressed: Australia's bowling is not what it was.
With Shane Warne now safely ensconced in the comfort of the media lounge and Glenn McGrath gone too, it is true that English batsman are right to feel some relief.
With a combined 1271 Test scalps - 352 of them in Ashes matches - the fabled pair are indeed a serious loss.
Add to the mix the potentially fragile fitness of pacemen Stuart Clark and Brett Lee and it might appear that the cupboard is barer than it has been in some years.
But scan the Baggy Greens' touring squad and two words put paid to that theory: Mitchell Johnson.
In Johnson, Ricky Ponting has an out-and-out series winner.
At 27 the rangy left-armer is young enough to have the hunger and physical fitness to star in a punishing five-match series, but with 21 Tests and 94 wickets to his name he also has enough experience to see him through the tough sessions.
Handed the new ball alongside Lee, he returned eight wickets in his first two Test outings, in the November 2007 series against Sri Lanka, with Mahela Jayawardene and Marvan Atapattu among his victims.
A further 16 wickets followed in the next series against India, while he continued to impress with his aggressive lines and naturally full, swinging deliveries.
His first five-for came against New Zealand a year after his debut, blowing away the Kiwis with figures of 17.3-6-5-39 and it was not longer before he progressed from exciting newcomer to full-blown dangerman.
That moment came at the WACA in December when he reduced the touring South African batting line-up to rubble with a destructive performance which saw him pick up a career-best return of eight for 61, following up with three more in the second knock to record his first 10-wicket match.
With the Proteas already rattled by Johnson's movement and average pace of around 90mph, he went on to underline his threat with a brutal spell in the return series.
After accounting for both Hashim Amla and Neil McKenzie in his opening over, Johnson amped up the speed, bent his back and sent Proteas skipper Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis back to the pavilion retired hurt.
His three for 37 was impressive enough, but in breaking the finger of the grizzled Smith and leaving the vastly-experienced Kallis nursing a cut chin, he announced himself as the new, snarling face of Australia's attack.
And as if born to the role, he has already inherited McGrath's timely knack of putting pre-series pressure on England.
McGrath famously got the better of former England skipper Michael Atherton in a duel which lasted several years and now Johnson is ready to start his own battle with current captain Andrew Strauss.
"In South Africa I had a leadership role and it didn't change my game, I just tried to lead by example and things are going to be the same over in England hopefully," he said.
"Over in South Africa I started to swing the ball and Strauss being a left-handed batsman, it will go away from him," he said.
"I like bowling to lefties so that's something that I'm looking forward to.
"It's going to be a great challenge and he's been scoring a few runs but hopefully we can put a bit of pressure on him and maybe their side will follow."
Depressingly for Strauss, winning the scrap against Johnson the bowler is only half the battle, with Johnson the batsman now an increasingly dangerous prospect.
Johnson has been mooted as a one-day pinch-hitter and his muscular, well-rehearsed technique has led former Somerset captain Peter Roebuck to declare him better than Imran Khan and the near-equal of Kapil Dev at the crease.
Indeed, reflecting on Johnson's efforts in scoring a fine, unbeaten 123 against South Africa, his captain Ricky Ponting was moved to comment: "We've known for a long time Mitch is more than capable of taking any bowler down at any time."
The message to Strauss and co. is simple - Australia's winning spirit did not leave with the likes of Warne and McGrath.