Australian fast bowler Mitchell Johnson produced a devastating bowling performance on the second day of the first Test against South Africa at SuperSport Park on Thursday which he said was better than that which set the tone for the recent Ashes series against England.
Johnson took four for 51 as South Africa crashed to 140 for six at the close, still 257 runs behind Australia's first innings of 397. AB de Villiers was the only batsman to withstand the onslaught, scoring 52 not out. The raw figures do not do justice to the destruction caused by Johnson against the world's number one-rated team.
Johnson needed just four balls to strike a major blow when he dismissed South African captain Graeme Smith with a vicious bouncer. He followed up with the wickets of Alviro Petersen and Faf du Plessis in his third and fourth overs. Hashim Amla was leg before wicket to Peter Siddle to reduce South Africa to 43 for four before AB de Villiers and JP Duminy staged a minor recovery with a fifth wicket stand of 67.
Johnson was involved in Duminy's dismissal, taking a superb diving catch running back from mid-off when Duminy mistimed a lofted drive against off-spinner Nathan Lyon. Johnson the bowler struck again when he bowled Ryan McLaren, beating the all-rounder for pace.
Johnson was man-of-the-match in the first Test against England in Brisbane last November, taking nine wickets and stamping an Australian dominance which led to a 5-0 sweep. Johnson was named man of the series, taking 37 wickets at an average of 13.97 as Australia regained the Ashes.
"I started a bit better here," he said. "To come out and get three quick wickets was definitely a great start for me personally but the game has been set up by the way the boys batted earlier on." Johnson said he noticed that South African bowlers Morne Morkel and Ryan McLaren got extra bounce when they bowled around the wicket - a similar angle to him bowling left-arm over the wicket. "I just wanted to utilise that. I didn't think the ball was swinging, so my plan was just to bang the wicket hard and it came off."
He said he believed he was a better bowler than when he played against South Africa five years ago when he twice broke bones in Graeme Smith's hand. Johnson's first ball to Smith was short and there was a half-hearted appeal as it thudded off the batsman's thigh pad to short leg.
The next ball was a fast bouncer which climbed towards Smith's head. The batsman lifted his bat in front of his face and the ball looped over the slips, with Shaun Marsh running back from third slip to take a fine catch. "It's nice when a plan comes off," said Johnson. "Like I said when I first got here, I think it's definitely at the back of his mind what happened previously. But he's done so well for his country, you never know. It was just one of those balls that took off."
South African coach Russell Domingo admitted: "It's going to be tough to get out of this position. Australia are well ahead." Domingo described Johnson as an "X-factor" bowler. "We've got him on a hot streak. We prepared as well as we could but there's no way you can prepare for the intensity of a Test match."
Australia earlier lost their last six wickets for 66 runs. Marsh and Steve Smith took their fifth wicket stand to 233, seeing off the threat of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander with the second new ball, before Smith was out for 100, caught at second slip off Ryan McLaren.
Smith took 33 balls to advance from his overnight 91 to his fourth Test century, made off 211 deliveries, but was out two balls later. Brad Haddin, one of the stars of Australia's 5-0 series win over England, lasted just three balls before he swung across the line against left-arm spinner Robin Peterson and was leg before wicket without scoring.
Marsh took his overnight score of 122 to a Test-best 148 before Philander came back into the attack and had him caught at first slip. Dale Steyn and Robin Peterson wrapped up the innings soon after lunch, with Steyn bowling Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle to finish with four for 78, while Peterson bowled Johnson for a hard-hit 33.