Mitchell Johnson, the former Australia fast bowler, has condemned the minority of spectators at Lord’s who booed Steven Smith on his return to the crease after being felled by a Jofra Archer bouncer, telling ESPNcricinfo that they are “not cricket fans”.
Smith’s return to Test cricket, after serving a year-long ban for his role in Australia’s ball-tampering scandal, has been spectacular, with matchwinning scores of 144 and 142 at Edgbaston last week, followed by yesterday’s 92 out in Australia’s first-innings total of 250.
However, his visits to the crease have been greeted with a chorus of boos from some spectators who still maintain that he ought to be judged by his actions in Cape Town 18 months ago rather than his current exploits. And while Johnson believes they are broadly within their rights to do so, he felt that his reception on Saturday afternoon – as he resumed his innings on 80 not out after receiving treatment for two heavy blows to the neck and the left forearm – was beyond the pale.
“One of the biggest disappointments for me was the crowd,” said Johnson. “Not the whole crowd, obviously, but a couple of boos could be heard through the effects mic, and that really disappointed me when he came back out to bat.
“I don’t care what people say, they can say ‘yes, he’s a cheat and that’s why we’re booing him’, but that’s a load of rubbish to me. Yes, he’s done what he’s done, and you can boo him at the start of play when he comes onto the field if that’s how you feel. But for me, he’s taken a heavy knock – two heavy knocks – but he’s said ‘I can still bat here’. He’s braved up, he’s come through the concussion tests, and not many people would be able to do that.”
Also read: Steven Smith blow brings cricket to a standstill
Johnson, one of the few fast bowlers in recent Test history who was capable of bowling at the exceptional speed that Archer generated on day four of the second Test, also recalled the moment at Sydney in 2008-09, when South Africa’s captain Graeme Smith reappeared at No.11 in a bid to save the Test for his team, despite having had his hand broken by Johnson earlier in the match.
“I remember in 2008 when Graeme Smith came out to bat, and the crowd were on their feet,” he said. “The majority of the fans here were, but for me, the ones that booed were not cricket fans.”
Johnson, who had been commentating on Test Match Special when Smith was struck in the neck, recalled his unease at the incident, and said that he had sympathy with the England players – in particular Archer and Jos Buttler – who attracted some criticism on social media for appearing to laugh while Smith was receiving treatment.
“I was on the radio when it happened, and I found it quite difficult to speak at the time because of the way Steve Smith hit the ground and lay there,” he said. “You could see he was moving around, but it obviously hurt him.
“But what the England players did well was that Jos Buttler rushed straight up to him, and though Jofra Archer went back to the crease and rubbed his hands in the dirt, he then walked over to make sure he was okay.
“In that situation they did everything they could as players. They made sure he was okay as best they could. They are not professionals in the medical world, so they have to leave that up to the professionals to make those decisions and sort that out.”
“There is a bit of stuff going around in social media about Buttler and Archer laughing and smiling, but you don’t know what they were laughing at, and for me they weren’t laughing at Steve Smith,” he added.
“There was a bit of nervousness in the laughter. Archer was a bit shaken by it, he’s a cool character, really calm, but you could tell in his eyes there was a little bit of concern there as well.”
“But the game is played with the short ball,” Johnson added. “We saw Patty Cummins earlier in the Test going quite hard at Archer, so it’s expected in this game. There was nothing illegal about the delivery, I don’t think there was too much of it.”
Speaking to Sky Sports before the start of the final day, Archer insisted that his primary aim had been to get Smith out, with a short leg and leg slip in place to combat his habit of working the short ball off his hip.
“I honestly don’t know what I was thinking at the time,” Archer said. “Seeing someone go down, you don’t ever want to see anyone carried off on a stretcher, or you don’t want to see them missing a day, or a game, especially with what happened a few years ago [to Phil Hughes] as well. It’s never a nice sight.”
Johnson agreed that England’s tactics were fair and appropriate, given the skill that Smith has displayed in the series to date.
“How do you get Steve Smith out? We keep talking about it and England hadn’t tried that tactic of really going after him,” he said. “Unfortunately for Steve it has really rattled him up. He got hit on the arm first and he played a pull not too long after that he would not normally do. It definitely played on his emotions, his head, his skills. It’s part of the game and there’s been a little too much taken out of what’s happened out there today.
“As a cricket watcher, I know everyone around the ground enjoyed that [battle], and even as an Australian fan back home, it would have been very exciting to watch a young up-and-coming superstar, going up against the best in the world, and getting the crowd riled up, and right behind him.”