'Really, really off': England rage over Mitchell Johnson's 'rank' coronavirus sledge

Sam Goodwin
Sports Editor

Ben Stokes has returned fire at Mitchell Johnson after the Aussie great criticised England’s decision to stop shaking hands amid the coronavirus outbreak.

England this week announced players will not be shaking hands on their tour of Sri Lanka and will use fist bumps instead.

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That followed global health advice that shaking hands could spread the virus.

Joe Root's team were laid low by flu and gastroenteritis in South Africa recently and are cautious following the coronavirus outbreak that has killed over 3000 people and infected more than 89,000 globally.

Ben Stokes and Mitchell Johnson. Image: Getty

However Johnson decided it was appropriate to mock England’s handshake ban and took a pot shot at Stokes in the process.

“Is this a p*** take?” Johnson wrote on social media alongside a screenshot from a story about England’s decision.

“You can jam your fist pump England hahahaha just be careful though, Stokesy might react with a sucker punch.”

Mitchell Johnson's post mocking England. Image: Instagram

Johnson was referencing Stokes’ infamous brawl outside a Bristol pub in which he punched two men.

The England all-rounder was later acquitted after a court ruled that he acted in self-defence.

Stokes fires back at Johnson

Stokes got wind of Johnson’s sledge and replied with one of his own, using a famous Barmy Army chant that mocked the Aussie bowler.

“Bowls to the left, bowls to the right, I wonder if big bad Mitch likes Marmite,” Stokes tweeted in response to a story about Johnson’s comments.

The Barmy Army are famous for their songs and frequently targeted Johnson throughout his career, the original chant being: “He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right, that Mitchell Johnson, his bowling is sh*te.”

And Stokes wasn’t the only person who didn’t take kindly to Johnson’s comments.

Johnson appeared to have deleted his Twitter account as of Friday morning.

England’s rationale for banning handshake

Root explained the decision to stop shaking hands to reporters.

“After the illnesses that swept through the squad in South Africa, we are well aware of the importance of keeping contact to a minimum,” Root said before flying to Sri Lanka on Monday night for a two-Test series.

“We've been given some really sound and sensible advice from our medical team to help prevent spreading germs and bacteria.

“We are not shaking hands with each other - using instead the well-established fist bump - and we are washing hands regularly and wiping down surfaces using the antibacterial wipes and gels we've been given in our immunity packs.”

England spinner Jack Leach was particularly affected by the recent health issues, saying he feared he was going to die after contracting sepsis.

England players will not be shaking hands for the foreseeable future. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

“I didn’t know too much about it at the time, how serious it could be, but I remember feeling very, very ill,” Leach revealed on Thursday.

“I remember thinking, ‘Don’t fall asleep because you might not wake up’. It was that serious in terms of how I was feeling. I was out of it, really. My blood pressure was dropping quickly, my heart-rate was 190 and my temperature was 40 degrees.

“That’s when they called an ambulance and got me to hospital. Once I got there, got the antibiotics in my arm and on to a drip, I started to feel better quite quickly but it still took a couple of nights in hospital and I was probably still recovering when I flew back from New Zealand. It took longer to get over than I thought.”

England will play the first of their two practice matches from Saturday before the first Test in Galle from March 19 while Colombo hosts the second Test from March 27.

Sri Lanka confirmed the first case of coronavirus in the country in January but Root expected the tour to go on as planned.

“There is no suggestion that the tour will be affected. But, of course, it is an evolving situation so we are in regular contact with the authorities and will proceed as advised,” Root said.

with AAP