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Johnson grateful for Ashes chance

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Mitchell Johnson

Mitchell Johnson is set to spearhead the Australia attack in this summer's Ashes

Had things worked out differently, Mitchell Johnson could well have been dodging bullets in Afghanistan rather than firing the opening salvo of the Ashes against England.

It was a decade ago that the 27-year-old was first spotted at a bowling academy in Brisbane, where former Test pace great Dennis Lillee hailed the youngster as a "once-in-a-lifetime prospect.”

Following a difficult spell after such early promise, which included a battle against back problems, left-armer Johnson is now very much in the frame to lead the tourists’ attack.

On the second day of the first Test against South Africa in Perth last December, he took 7-42 - and continued his development on the return tour earlier this year.

The Queensland native, though, knows full well his life could have been so different.

"I grew up in Townsville, which had an army barracks there," he recalled.

"When I left high school, I had around half-a-year out - and a lot of my mates were joining the army.

"I was close to joining up as well. But then the opportunity came to go down to a fast-bowling clinic, where Dennis found me.

"There was a fair bit of luck in it, to be honest - because if I had not gone to that camp, then I probably would have been in the army.

"One of my mates was a tank driver, and a couple of them have been to Afghanistan and Iraq - where they have been shot at - which is all pretty scary.

"They love what they do, and I feel great they are all out there looking after us."

Mitchell Johnson

Johnson also poses a genuine threat with the bat and struck his maiden Test century against South Africa earlier in the year

Johnson was on the periphery of the Australia squad for the last Ashes and cannot wait to get started, with the first npower Test scheduled for Cardiff on July 8 before moving to the home of cricket at Lord’s.

"In the build-up to it all, I am getting quite nervous. But that is normal for me before any series," he said.

"The Ashes is a big deal for us - you hear all the cliches, and it will be a special moment for me.

"I was around the guys during the last series, which gave me a bit of exposure of what it is like. But over here, it is going to be a whole lot different."

Johnson already has a couple of English batsmen well and truly in his sights.

"I am looking forward bowling at (Andrew) Strauss and (Alastair) Cook, being left-handers,” he said.

"If I can swing the ball away from those guys, I am going to be very happy."

Johnson is also slowly developing his all-round game - with a defiant, unbeaten 123 from just 86 balls in the third Test against South Africa in March.

The 27-year-old, though, is determined not to get hung up on averages this summer.

"I have worked on my batting a lot, after having stress fractures in my back. I will always do a little bit extra in training," said Johnson.

"I am batting at number eight at the moment - and I think that is a really good spot to come in.

"It will be different conditions here in England, but I will not feel any pressure to score runs.

"I set myself goals which I want to achieve on tour - and for now, I am not going to give those away."

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