Places of the Heart: Mitchell Johnson

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Dec 28, 2016

From paneer to a persistent buffalo, the retired Test cricketer’s travels have left him with powerful memories. As told to Di Webster.

India

2001: When I was 19, I went to Chennai in southern India to attend Dennis Lillee’s bowling academy [the MRF Pace Foundation]. I hadn’t travelled much before. The first thing that hits you is the smell and the chaos on the roads; there are cars coming at you from everywhere.

Food was the biggest challenge. That week, the only thing I ate was tandoori chicken and chips. [Teammate] Matthew Hayden first got me interested in Indian food. I started with paneer; I didn’t want to eat it but it was fantastic and I grew to love it.

I’ve now been to India more than 20 times. Indian people are so passionate about cricket, you can’t walk around without getting mobbed. In the end, we’d get the bus to the ground then back to the hotel – that was it. The fans always have a smile but it’s intense.

SEE ALSO: Five Amazing Places to Visit in India

New York City, US 

2007: At the end of the West Indies tour, my now-wife, Jessica, and I went to New York for six days. She’d been before but it was my first time. We stayed at the W hotel near Times Square; it was amazing. We went to a comedy club uptown, just because a guy was handing out tickets on the street. And I bought a CD from a young rapper in Times Square.

The one thing I didn’t like was queuing. We got the ferry to the Statue of Liberty but I spotted the queue from the boat and decided I’d seen as much as I needed to; same with the Empire State Building. 

We visited Ground Zero and saw St Paul’s, the little chapel that survived. We went to a baseball game at Yankee Stadium. I’d seen enough movies to think that walking through the Bronx wasn’t a good idea but it turned out to be fine.

Cape Town, South Africa

2009: Cape Town is my favourite city in South Africa. It’s more relaxed and there are heaps of funky little bars with live music where locals go. It’s also really beautiful.

You play cricket there with Table Mountain looming over the [Newlands] stadium. We’d always get our team photo taken with the mountain in the background. Cape Town gets very windy – a bit like Perth – but there are some good walks on the mountain. 

I’d been to South Africa once before but on this occasion, Jessica and I went to a game park two hours out of Cape Town, where we saw rhinos, lions, impalas and elephants. I got stalked by a buffalo; I had done some reading about them and that’s what they do. It came right up next to me and when I looked back later, it still had me in its sights and came back again. It was quite intimidating. 

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