When Dennis Lillee declared an ungainly teenager from Townsville was a once in a generation bowler, Australian cricket took notice. Despite battling injury, Johnson's early state career with Queensland gave a glimpse of his enormous promise and he was quickly rushed into the national setup.
Having impressed in the one-day arena for Australia, Johnson earned a Test debut in 2007 following the retirement of Glenn McGrath. His performance against Sri Lanka gave the public a glimpse of a raw fast bowler who still had several flaws but plenty of promise.
Having produced solid performances in Australia, the West Indies and India, Johnson grabbed the headlines when he ripped through South Africa’s vaunted batting line-up at his favoured WACA Ground in 2008. Johnson took 8-61, including an incredible burst of 5 for 2 in 21 balls that destroyed the middle order. The Proteas would go on to win the match, but Johnson had arrived.
Buoyed by his spell in Perth, Johnson would produce one of the great all-round performances as the Aussies stunned South Africa on their own turf in 2009. Johnson claimed 16 wickets in three Tests and also tallied 255 runs, including his first Test century, to top the batting averages. He inflicted some physical pain on the Proteas batsmen too and would go on to be named the ICC International Cricketer of the Year.
What seemed to be a petty tabloid spat between Johnson’s mother and girlfriend ended up ruining his maiden Ashes tour. Johnson’s mother Vikki publically slammed his girlfriend Jessica Bratich, labeling her a ‘bitchy’ control freak. In was an unwelcome distraction of the eve of the 2009 Ashes tour, which saw Australia’s spearhead splashed across newspapers on both sides of the world.
With his personal life a distraction, Johnson produced one of the worst opening bowling spells in recent Ashes memory in the second Test at Lord’s. The left-armer was a shadow of the man who ripped through South Africa just a few months earlier, conceding over six runs an over in England’s massive first innings total. Johnson finished the series with 20 wickets to his name, but he conceded over four runs an over and was ridiculed by the English fans.
While Johnson was a mainstay of Australia’s attack for the next 18 months, his mental demons would resurface during the return Ashes series in 2010-11. He was dropped after taking 0-170 in the first Test and despite a man-of-the-match performance at his favoured WACA Ground in the third Test, he finished the series a broken man. Again conceding over four runs and over, Johnson’s unpredictable bowling and fragile mental state made him an easy target for the Barmy Army.
Having lost his place in the Test side due to a combination of injury and poor form, a new-look Johnson stormed back onto the scene in the one-day series' against England and then India in 2013. With fatherhood giving him a fresh approach and having worked on his action and fitness with Dennis Lillee, Johnson looked to be a changed man. He intimidated batsmen with his short and hostile bowling and the mental scars he left would leave a lasting impression.
With a new moustache that made him look like Dennis Lillee, Johnson started to bowl like him as well to destroy England in the 2013-2014 Ashes series. He finished with an incredible 37 wickets from five Tests, highlighted by his haul of 7-40 on a flat pitch in Adelaide. Having been tormented by England during his previous two Ashes campaigns, Johnson got his own back and then some.
With the Ashes behind him, Johnson was given the arduous task of repeated the dose against the world No.1 Test team in South Africa. He showed no signs of slowing down, picking up 12 wickets in the first Test and leaving the Proteas batsmen physically and mentally wounded.