“It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small
“And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all
“It’s time to see what I can do
“To test the limits and break through…
“Let it go, let it go.”
The Ashes has the power to make or break cricketers.
Mitchell Johnson knows that better than most.
His Ashes story is a one of sport’s greatest tales of redemption – and contradiction.
In the 2009 and 2010-11 series at times his bowling was so wayward – and the Barmy Army’s mocking so ruthless – it was difficult to watch.
“He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right,” began a chant to the tune of Sloop John B, most famously recorded by the Beach Boys.
It ended, Johnson once joked, by describing his bowling as ‘alright’. If only. The actual expletive used was less printable and more damning.
Sports fans are not always known for their accuracy. But this time the Barmy Army, unlike Johnson, were spot on.
The song seeped into the Australian’s psyche. The refrain echoed in his head as he lay down to sleep and as he tore into the crease.
Those lyrics could have been Johnson’s Ashes epitaph.
“I wasn’t sure if I was gonna play again,” Johnson says as he looks back at the end of 2011, when a foot injury had been added to the insults.
“I just had no interest in cricket at all and I didn’t miss it.”
His story could have ended there. Instead the stage was set from one of the most astonishing reprises in Ashes history.
It’s April 2023 and a softly-spoken Johnson is sitting down for a BBC Sport interview for the recently-released documentary How to Win the Ashes.
“Before the 2013-14 Ashes series was pretty nerve racking to be honest,” he says. “I was really unsure of how I was going to go.
“I’d missed out on selection for the  Ashes series in England.
“At first I was a little bit upset, but I was also relieved at the same time because I was really nervous about getting back into Test cricket.”
Johnson knew that when he made his return, that song, and a chorus line of mental gremlins, would be waiting. He couldn’t avoid it, so he chose to drown it out instead.
“I remember actually playing a one-day series before that and I wanted to test myself to see how I mentally block out the noise,” continues Johnson.
“I had the Frozen song Let it Go in my head because of my daughter.
“Everyone laughed at it, but when she was really young she listened to it and it all actually made sense.
“Let ‘it’ go was two things – let the ball go and let all the noise go.
“I was able to use that when I was down on the boundary, when someone was giving it to me in the crowd. I just had no negative thoughts.”
As Johnson, fresh from a Perth beach, thinks back, he is softly-spoken, modest, almost introverted.
What followed in the 2013-14 series against England was the diametric opposite – one of the most intimidating fast-bowling performances of all time.
Getting to a spot of zero negativity had been an incredible triumph for Johnson.
“For someone so talented, such a natural cricketer and so gifted an athlete, I found his lack of self-belief astonishing,” former Australia captain Ricky Ponting once said of the left-armer.
Johnson was born in Townsville, Queensland and actually grew up wanting to be a professional tennis player.
Pete Sampras, the American 14-time Grand Slam champion famous for his metronomic serve, was his hero.
Johnson perennially struggled for anything close to Pistol Pete’s consistency and confidence.
Johnson took 15 wickets, more than any other Australian, in the 2010-11 series. But, his wild, wayward deliveries were more notable than the occasional breakthrough as England sealed the series 3-1, winning the Ashes away for the first time in 24 years.
As he came out to bat for the final time in the series, England fans serenaded Johnson to the crease with that familiar song.
Chris Tremlett’s first delivery to him was full, straight and fast. The ball flashed between bat and pad, wrecking Johnson’s stumps. As he trudged off with a golden duck, and Australia headed towards an innings defeat, the Barmy Army sang their song once more.
Watching the match from the Sydney Cricket Ground press box, the Guardian’s Kevin Mitchell wrote this line about Johnson: “There are unbackable nags at the nearby Randwick racecourse who are more reliable. Sometimes, he has the demeanour of a haunted artist, Van Gogh without his brushes.”
Mitchell got Mitchell spot on.
“In the 2010-11 series I just found that I was thinking a lot about what I needed to do,” said Johnson, who has since spoken about struggling with depression then and throughout his career.
“I was overthinking instead of just letting it happen.
“I was thinking that I was performing terribly the whole time. That just got me down and I wasn’t able to recover from that.
“There was a fair bit going on behind the scenes for me and I started to bring that into my cricket. My mental game really struggled.
“I couldn’t bowl the ball where I wanted to bowl it. I was just struggling with everything.
“It got to be a bit of a slippery slope. I got injured later on in 2011 and I didn’t want to play cricket for a while.”
Such disinterest would have been anathema to the Mitchell Johnson who made his Australia Test debut against Sri Lanka in 2007. Johnson was 26 at the time, a latecomer to Test cricket.
Four stress fractures earlier in his career saw him lose his Queensland contract and spend some time driving a plumbing van.
Australian fast bowling royalty Glenn McGrath presented Johnson with his first Baggy Green in 2007 at his home ground, the Gabba in Brisbane.
“I actually slept with it on the first night,” he says. “Not sure Jess [Johnson’s wife] was that impressed with it.
“I don’t think it really suited me to be honest. It’s an odd-looking sort of cap that sits on your head, almost like a train conductor. But yeah, it was very special.”
Channelling some of that early awe and wonder during an extended injury-enforced spell out helped him rediscover his love for the game, his radar and that Frozen-inspired zen.
“I had about nine months out of the game,” Johnson says. “I had some plans, I wanted to bowl fast. I wanted to do it my own way.
“I felt before that I was probably being asked to do things that I wasn’t maybe capable of. I just wanted to bowl fast. That was it.”
When England returned to Australia for the 2013-14 series, Johnson was different.
The visiting batsman didn’t know how Johnson had toughed up in the top six inches, but they could see what he had done on his top lip.
Gone was the clean-shaven look. Instead Johnson sported a bushy moustache reminiscent of Australia’s iconic fast bowlers of the past such as Dennis Lillee, the man credited for spotting Johnson’s potential aged 17.
Johnson credited his new look for giving him “that little bit of extra aggro”. It was part of wider approach adopted by his team.
Australia’s collective plan was to be “nasty” to England, foregoing the usual small talk and niceties and not speaking to the opposition before or after matches.
When Johnson was at his terrifying best, there were a number of nuanced reasons that made him so difficult; he produced late swing with an ageing ball and the angle of his left-arm deliveries were a seldom-seen challenge for batsmen.
Ultimately, though, his hunch was right. Bowling fast was enough.
England opener Michael Carberry was making his Ashes debut in the first Test at the Gabba.
In the recently-released BBC Sport documentary How to Win the Ashes, Carberry is wide-eyed when describing the sheer pace of Johnson. “Mitchell Johnson started releasing hand grenades. This ball was flying through,” he says.
Australia’s series-long vow of silence towards England was only broken to engage in on-pitch sledging. Johnson’s pace was the subject of the most notorious, when a microphone picked up Australia captain Michael Clarke warning James Anderson his arm would soon be broken, with an expletive added for emphasis.
England batsman Kevin Pietersen later admitted that he and his team-mates were scared to face this version of Johnson, who refused to be ruffled by England’s own attempts at sledging.
Even Johnson’s own team-mates were fearful: “It was scary,” fellow Australia pace bowler Peter Siddle says.
Johnson ended that first Test with nine wickets to his name in a 381-run drubbing for England.
But he was just getting started.
“People thought he bowled quick at the Gabba, let me tell you, he bowled the quickest at the Adelaide Oval,” Carberry says.
“Mitch sent this bouncer down and I remember it thudding into [wicketkeeper] Brad Haddin’s gloves. I looked up at the scoreboard and it was just flashing red.
“I was thinking to myself, 160 kilometres is 100 miles per hour. He’s just sent that down at 95mph, second ball of the day. What?!”
Johnson ended that first innings at the Adelaide Oval with seven wickets, including a spell of six wickets for 16 runs in 26 balls that featured a triple-wicket maiden.
He didn’t slow down – figuratively or literally – throughout the series, taking 37 wickets at an average of fewer than 14 runs per wicket. He was predictably named man of the series in only the third 5-0 Ashes whitewash in the series’ 140-year history.
The Ashes has a power to define careers. Johnson embodies that.
The 2013-14 series was a career high point, in the same way the 2009, 2010-11 and 2013, when he wasn’t even selected, were some of his lowest ebbs.
Of his 313 Test wickets, 87 came against England – 23 more than against any other side.
“What did the Ashes mean to me? The history is really important,” Johnson says. “Australia versus England. I think it’s just been those battles over the years before me. And the battles that are happening after my time as well.
“I find them just really, really exciting. There’s always been that bit of tension as well. It’s very tough, very mentally draining, physically draining.
“After the 2013-14 series, as we came off the field in Sydney after the last Test, I just remember saying to the fast bowlers – Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris – ‘I’m absolutely exhausted, physically and mentally’.
“And they said, ‘we’re absolutely cooked as well’.
“I think the mental side comes from the build-up to an Ashes series, the weight of the country behind you. You’re just in that bubble for that period of time when you’re playing that series. And you’re just so focused on that one.
“One goal – that’s winning.”