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Page last updated at 10:49 GMT, Tuesday, 21 July 2009 11:49 UK

Ponting backs under-fire Johnson

Mitchell Johnson
Ponting has backed Johnson to return to form

Australia captain Ricky Ponting says under-fire bowler Mitchell Johnson will not be made a scapegoat after England's 115-run win in the second Ashes Test.

Johnson took only three wickets for 200 runs in the match, including 0-68 in 17 overs during England's second innings.

Ponting said: "We have to be careful how we manage him over the next bit."

The fitness of Brett Lee, who missed the first two Tests with a side injury, is also a concern as Australia look to claw their way back into the series.

The 32-year-old fast bowler is a serious doubt for the third Test at Edgbaston and could be given a run out in a tour match against Northamptonshire that begins on Friday.

"The positive thing is that in a tour game we do have the flexibility on how much we can bowl him or how much we don't bowl him," said coach Tim Nielsen.

"He hasn't bowled yet, so we just have to sit with the medical staff over the next few days and chat: about how much we need to get into him and whether it is going to progress him to the stage where he could play in the third Test."

Ponting is eager to boost the confidence of the 27-year-old Johnson and said he can see him playing in the third Test, which gets under way on 30 July.

"Bowling coach Troy Cooley is obviously working really closely with him," said Ponting.

"What you don't want to do with youngish blokes - Mitch has only played 20-odd Tests and is still pretty new to the game and pretty new to fast bowling - is to fill their heads full of too much and have him thinking of too many things all the time."

They have probably picked the worst balanced squad in the history of the Ashes

Rodney Hogg

Former Test bowler Rodney Hogg believes the pressure on Johnson may explain his poor performance, but says Australia's problems extend far beyond his display.

"His line and length has always been superb, I can't believe what's happening," Hogg told BBC Radio 5 Live. "There's got to be some reason for it, but that won't be fixed overnight.

"He has been the man we thought would come over here and be the reason why we would win the Ashes so the pressure that has been on this young man has been so great."

Hogg added: "They have probably picked the worst balanced squad in the history of the Ashes - no reserve opening batsmen, no specialist batsmen for the middle order, no leg spinner, an off-spinner and a part-time off-spinner."

Another former Australia bowler Jason Gillespie agrees with Ponting's assessment of Johnson: "A lot of it has been blown out of proportion," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"Yes, we concede that Mitchell isn't bowling that well at the moment, but this a guy who got to a 100 Test wickets in the second fastest time in the history of the game. You don't lose your skills overnight, so I wouldn't worry about that."

With Lee still struggling for fitness, Stuart Clark is the leading candidate to replace Johnson if Australia decide to make a change.

Lee has not played a first-class match for Australia since the Boxing Day Test defeat to South Africa over the winter, although he did claim six first innings wickets against England Lions last month before suffering discomfort in his ribs.

"The injury that he has is a bowling-specific injury and history shows if you have those injuries again it tends to be six, eight, 10 weeks before they come right, if you actually re-tear the side," added Nielsen.

"Two, three, four overs in the nets is probably not enough to prove that he is right to go.


"If he had to bowl say 11 overs in a row to win a Test match for us, we would want to be comfortable that he is strong and fit enough and able to do it."

However, former captain Ian Chappell is reluctant to see Johnson dropped and, if Lee is fit, then he is not sure who would make way for the paceman with fellow fast bowlers Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle both outperforming Johnson at Lord's.

"What do they do?" he said. "They can't drop Hilfenhaus, they can't drop Siddle - there's one man the you could drop on form is Mitchell Johnson, but they won't want to drop him.

"If Lee is fit and gets some wickets in the next game, where do they go?"

Spinner Nathan Hauritz, who injured his finger in the first innings at Lord's, could make way but Chappell has been impressed with the 27-year-old so far this tour.

"They might be able to bluff it with Hauritz and say his finger is no good and he's not fit for the the next Test match, but that's a hopelessly unbalanced attack - particularly for Edgbaston," stated Chappell.

"But Hauritz is bowling well. We've seen him really trouble the left handers in the side - he's bowled well to them. They've got some real selection dilemmas."

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Australia in England 2009
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