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Page last updated at 08:09 GMT, Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Ashes: Mitchell Johnson is fired up for Test series

First Ashes Test, Brisbane
Dates: 25-29 November Start time: 0000 GMT Coverage: Listen live to Test Match Special on BBC 5 live sports extra, Radio 4 LW and online (UK only). Watch live on Sky Sports 1, highlights on ITV 4

By Tom Fordyce,
BBC Sport in Brisbane

Mitchell Johnson
Johnson took 5-35 and hit 121 in his final club game before the first Test

Mitchell Johnson has warned England's batsmen that he will be targeting them with flat-out fast bowling when the first Ashes Test begins on Thursday.

The left-arm paceman struggled with his control at times in last summer's Ashes but will throw caution to the wind as Australia attempt to draw first blood.

"I think I'm finally happy with where I am with my bowling, just running in and bowling fast," said Johnson.

"That will be my role - be the aggressive type."

Johnson came into the Ashes last summer as the most highly rated fast bowler in world cricket, with expectations high that English conditions would help him find the swing that makes him so dangerous.

A haul of 20 wickets at an average of 32 masked the problems he had over the five-match series, particularly at Lord's where his profligacy in England's first innings (going for 77 runs off his first 11 overs) set the tone for the historic home victory that followed.

But 18 months on and with 39 Tests under his belt, the 29-year-old, born up the coast in Townsville, feels better equipped to deal with the unique pressures of the oldest contest in cricket, even if recent evidence tells a varied story.

In March this year he took 10 wickets against New Zealand in Hamilton to win the man-of-the-match award, and finished the Australian summer with 41 Test wickets at an average of 25. But in the recent one-day series against Sri Lanka he went for a combined 1-128 across the three matches, and when he returned to club cricket in Perth in a bid to find his form, bowled 11 wides in 10 overs.

Cook & Johnson itching for Ashes start

"Sometimes you start thinking about too many different things, and you've got to go back and keep it simple," he added.

"I now know what it's like to be around Ashes series. Today's really exciting for me; it's about harnessing that energy.

"Last time I came out of South Africa bowling really well. There was a lot of talk about me, and maybe I thought it was just going to happen in that series. This time I've really worked hard. We talk about the pressure on us, but there's a lot of pressure on them as well."

England practised at the Gabba for the first time on Tuesday, spending an hour doing fielding drills around a wicket that looks surprisingly green before spending a further two hours in the nets.

After two wins and a draw in their three warm-up matches, the mood in the camp remains upbeat and confident, with opener Alastair Cook unfazed by Johnson's warnings

"At the top of order versus the new ball is always tough - it's a challenge for me and [Andrew] Strauss to set the tone," he said.

"He loves that - he's a fighter. As captain you get targeted like that but he's handled that really well over the last 18 months."

Cook's own record against Australia is indifferent. In 10 matches he averages just 26, 16 runs down on his overall Test average. But like the rest of England's batsmen he feels in significantly better shape than before the last Ashes series down under, when a calamitous first day in Brisbane set the precedent for the 5-0 thrashing that was to follow.

"I've had good preparation time here - the last two games I've spent time in the middle," said. "I feel I'm more complete and understand what I have to do to score runs. I want to prove to people I can score runs here.


"As a team we feel in a good place. As a side we've got 11 players who can win games. What's happened is that over the last 12 months everyone has stood up and been counted, and we'll need that."

Four years ago, England's main strike bowler Steve Harmison famously sent the first delivery of the series to second slip. Like Harmison, Johnson sometimes gives the impression that his best spells almost happen by happy accident, his action less well-oiled machine than a randomly-firing weapon.

Prone to introspection and, in the past, sometimes wilting in the spotlight, he is far from the archetype of snarling Aussie quick. But with Australia looking to target England skipper Strauss in particular with the short stuff, Johnson is ready to let rip.

"I took a five-for in my last state game, and had a good series for myself in India, a couple of times trying to knock Virender Sehwag's head off. There'll be big crowds out there and all that pressure, but I'm ready to bowl fast," stated.

"Having (Australia wicketkeeper) Brad Haddin in there when there's pressure on definitely helps too. In the first two overs of the one-dayer against Sri Lanka I was trying to place the ball in an area and it wasn't working, and he said just bowl fast.

"In the nets, every batter that came in I was thinking of the England batters. I'm looking to be aggressive."

While England come into this series with a clean bill of health, Australia's concerns about vice-captain Michael Clarke have failed to dissipate.

Clarke's troublesome back ruled him out of practice on Monday, and while he trained on Tuesday he batted only briefly to throw-downs in the nets and looked stiff and awkward as he went through some fielding drills away from the rest of his team-mates.

Should he fail to pass muster on Wednesday, uncapped New South Wales batsman Usman Khawaja will be in line for a dramatic Test bow.

"To not have him in the team would be a big loss for us," admitted Johnson.

"It's about knowing your body. He'll have gone into games before feeling a bit stiff and came up fine. He had some throw-downs and said he's pulled up pretty good from it, and he has got two more days to prove himself. That's a good sign for him and for Australia. "

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