Langer gives Johnson ringing endorsement
THE growing chorus of support for Mitchell Johnson's international cricket comeback has added a vital member, with national Twenty20 coach Justin Langer insisting he'd be the first player picked if available.
Johnson, who retired from all international cricket in December 2015, returned to his terrifying best while helping the Perth Scorchers to Big Bash glory this summer.
The makeup of Australia's squad for next month's three-match T20 series against Sri Lanka will be discussed at a selection meeting on Tuesday - and Johnson's future is sure to be a topic of interest.
There was already a buzz about his form leading into the BBL finals, but his extraordinary figures of 3-3 in the Scorchers' semi-final win over the Melbourne Stars caught the attention of cricket fans across the planet: only two bowlers in history have conceded fewer runs from a four-over T20 spell, and it had never been done in Australia.
Johnson repeated the dose with a terrific spell of 1-13 in the final against Sydney Sixers, and Langer is in no doubt about whether he'd pick Johnson against Sri Lanka - which, of course, will have none of Australia's current Test squad available as the 16-man squad will already be in India.
The 35-year-old has firmly denied he has any interest in an Australian comeback - telling foxsports.com.au "I don't think I could go to that level. If that was to ever happen I don't think I'd enjoy it as much.”
But Langer yesterday suggested the 73-Test veteran had softened his stance in recent days and hinted Johnson could be persuaded - if the decision comes from the top.
"I think he's a bit warming to the idea. But I haven't got a definitive yes or no from him,” Langer said.
"That might be the persuasion of (interim chairman of selectors) Trevor Hohns, if they decide that's the way they'd like to go.”
One thing is certain, if Langer was given a vote then Johnson would be in.
"There's no doubt he's good enough to play - he'd be your first picked the way he's playing at the moment,” Langer said.
"...it's important in T20 cricket to have a left-armer up front, that's one thing I do know.
"It's been a really big part of our success at the Scorchers to have at least one left-armer who can swing the ball early.
"If it's not Mitchell Johnson we'll certainly be looking for someone.”
Johnson's 36-year-old Scorchers teammate Michael Klinger is another player in the frame to feature in the T20 series, in what would be a belated international debut.
Langer wouldn't accept criticism of the potential selection of elder statesmen of the game in a format that has - at international level, at least - been the domain of the young man.
Pointing to Australia's poor T20 record and lowly ranking of sixth in the world, he argued a case could be mounted to pick the proven performers regardless of age.
"You can look at the bigger picture approach, or look to win this series and start to bump up (the rankings),” he said.
"If you do that you've got to pick the best squad possible.
"Ultimately I've said for 20 years, the Australian cricket team should pick the best possible team for every single game.
"If you do that it usually has a good flow-on effect.
"It's been successful in Australian cricket for a long time, and there's no reason why it shouldn't be this time as well.”