India v Australia ODIs
The origin of Johnson's Ashes rampage
One of the greatest Ashes performances in history was sparked on the flat, benign wickets of the subcontinent
Brad Haddin couldn't help but be excited by what he was seeing.
Every time a ball thudded into his gloves.
Every time he was forced to take one above his head in conditions where he should have been taking it below his knees.
Every time a batsman retreated uncomfortably back towards his stumps, literally forced onto the back foot by speed and aggression that had no place being in such placid surrounds.
It was India in October, 2013.
In a one-day series that saw bat dominate ball to the tune of nine 300-plus totals out of 10 in five completed matches, it was a bowler that left the biggest impression on Australia's gloveman.
Not so much for what he did, but for what he was about to do.
"It was such a batting dominated series," Haddin recalled to cricket.com.au this week.
"Virat Kohli was getting hundreds, Rohit Sharma got a double hundred, James Faulkner was having an outstanding series with the bat and George Bailey played himself into an Ashes campaign with his outstanding performances in that series.
"But the one thing that stood out for me was what Mitch was producing on those wickets. It was hard for us not to get excited about what was about to happen in Australia."
Mitch, of course, refers to Mitchell Johnson, and what was about to happen in Australia was a summer of cricket unlike any that had come before it.
For all Johnson had achieved in his career to that point, he remained an enigmatic and at times divisive cricketer. At his best, he was better than any fast bowler in the world. At his worst ... well, the Barmy Army will tell you all about that.
This was Mitchell Johnson, who’d dismantled South Africa at home and away in the summer of 2008-09, swinging the old and new ball as well as his bat late in the order to be named the ICC’s Cricketer of the Year.
This was Mitchell Johnson, who'd been mocked and ridiculed by England's relentless supporters in back-to-back Ashes campaigns and who’d been denied a shot at redemption earlier that year, selectors deciding he wasn't one of the top five fast bowlers in the country for their 2013 Test tour of the UK.
This was Mitchell Johnson, who’d played just four Tests in the previous two years having taken six months out of the game in 2011-12 to mend a shattered left foot and an equally splintered psyche.
This was Mitchell Johnson, but something was very, very different.
Haddin, who had himself just returned from a year off to be with his ill daughter Mia, had kept to Johnson in just two matches over the previous two years by the time the first of seven ODIs in that Indian series began on October 13.
What he saw in that match and what he felt in his gloves throughout the rest of that tour made it hard for him to stay in the moment.
"We were in conditions that didn't suit fast bowling and he was just so hostile," Haddin recalls.
"And what everyone had in the back of our minds, even though we were trying not to talk about it, was that the Ashes campaign was just about to start at home.
"It was just phenomenal to see Mitch's pace and we were so excited about what we hoped he was about to do, and it turned out he did do, on Australian wickets."
Speaking four years later, this isn't Haddin praising Johnson with the benefit of hindsight.
With coach Darren Lehmann and captain Michael Clarke both skipping that Indian series, the Test vice-captain had at the time been quick to send the news back home; Mitchell Johnson is back and he's faster, better and more confident than he's ever been before. And he simply must play in the Ashes.
Haddin’s first-hand report validated what Lehmann, Clarke and then gloveman Matthew Wade had seen in Johnson's white-ball performances in England just a month earlier, including when he'd ominously struck Jonathan Trott on the helmet in Birmingham.
"He’s one of the quickest I've probably kept to for a little while now," Wade had said at the time.
"His rhythm is amazing but more importantly his accuracy is second to none.
"If he bowls like this, he'll definitely be in the mix for the first Test come the Ashes."
And Haddin's feedback from India helped to convince the Australians to withdraw the left-armer partway through the ODI tour when the series was still on the line, to ensure he was in peak condition for the Ashes.
That ODI series would be lost, but Johnson was being kept in reserve for the ultimate prize.
"There were messages going back that Mitch is in a pretty special place at the moment," Haddin says.
"The ball was swinging for him now and then, but the most exciting thing was how hostile he was bowling and on wickets that didn't suit that.
"It was just how heavy the ball was hitting the gloves ... the bounce he was getting and how uncomfortable he was making their batsmen feel.
"We got him out early so he was right to go for the Ashes campaign and it turned out to be a good call."
The rest, as Haddin saw from behind the stumps, is Ashes history.
Five matches, thirty-seven wickets and an England side sent home a fractured, disharmonious mess that would ultimately shed half its team (including its best player) and its coach in the wash-up.
The hostility that Johnson possessed, which Haddin had witnessed in India and Wade in England before that, was only amplified on the faster, bouncier Australian pitches.
It was one of the rare occasions since helmets and covered pitches have become commonplace, in an era where pampered batsmen have the freedom to casually rock onto their front foot at will, that a genuine fear of getting hurt had been brought back into the game.
And for five memorable Test matches, England folded in the face of Johnson’s rampage.
Apart from taking 22 catches offered by the tourists’ flailing batsmen, Haddin played a major role with the bat in Australia's second Ashes whitewash in less than a decade. With 493 runs in five matches at No.7, including a series-shaping 114-run stand with Johnson in the first Test, he was an equally important figure in their first Ashes triumph in seven years.
Four years on, Haddin is back in the country where he first felt Johnson's frightening thunderbolts thump into his gloves. He and Johnson have both since retired, but as Australia's new fielding coach, Haddin is in India again for an ODI series ahead of a home Ashes campaign.
But no matter what happens this summer, it will be hard to compare with Johnson's Ashes of 2013-14.
"It was such an exciting series for us and for me, that was my first series back at home after having such a long lay-off with my daughter," Haddin says.
"It was an exciting part of my career. Ashes campaigns are always a different beast, they've got a different theatre around them. The way the Australian public embraces the team, the scrutiny you're under, the Barmy Army adds another layer of excitement.
"It’s hard to believe it was four years ago. I talk about it like it was yesterday because it was just so exciting."
Australia's Qantas Tour of India
Australia ODI squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner, Ashton Agar, Hilton Cartwright, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Patrick Cummins, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Glenn Maxwell, Kane Richardson, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade, Adam Zampa.
Australia T20 squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner, Jason Behrendorff, Dan Christian, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Patrick Cummins, Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Moises Henriques, Glenn Maxwell, Tim Paine, Kane Richardson, Adam Zampa.
India squad (first three ODIs): Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma (vc), KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami.
September 17: MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai
September 21: Eden Gardens, Kolkata
September 24: Holkar Cricket Stadium, Indore
September 28: M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru
October 1: VCA Stadium, Nagpur
October 7: JSCA International Stadium, Ranchi
October 10: Barsapara Stadium, Guwahati
October 13: Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, Hyderabad