A LITTLE piece of paradise at the loveliest of England's Test grounds belongs to Paul Johnson, though the idea of rolling up the turf and carrying it around in his bag would horrify Ron Allsopp, the venerable groundsman.
Johnson made a dazzling hundred from 148 balls on the very same pitch where 13 days ago he scored a Sunday League 167 not out against Kent, the highest by a Nottinghamshire batsman in limited-overs cricket. He must know almost where every earthworm reposes. Ken Taylor, the former Nottinghamshire cricket manager, who recognised Johnson's talent years ago, used to urge him to score in singles until reaching 20 but became resigned to a precociously talented batsman letting his timing do the talking and often getting out when poised for a major innings.
It happened again, because Johnson top-edged a dolly catch the ball after the meaty pull which brought his 23rd first-class hundred, and with it a gentle reminder that the batsman England A rejected after the West Indies tour the winter before last is still around. The shine was barely taken off his innings though Mike Hendrick, Nottinghamshire's team manager, would probably disagree on the grounds that dismissal is a far greater 'crime' when well set than in the formative stages of an innings.
It foreshadowed a collapse in which four wickets tumbled for five runs in four overs, Shaun Udal, the off-spinner, taking 5 for 89, including a spell of 4 for 16 in 33 balls.
Standing second in the table Nottinghamshire attacked Hampshire's considerable total which had been achieved courtesy of David Gower and Adrian Aymes. From 84 for 4 with the follow-on possible, Johnson and Chris Cairns thrashed 150 in 35 overs. The promise of Hampshire's slow left-armer Ian Turner, who bowled 21 overs costing 24 runs, evaporated as the Nottinghamshire pair plundered 38 from his next five.
The pitch offered some turn, a growing factor in this game's equation. Udal exploited it, not only dismissing Johnson and Cairns, bowled when making room to cut, but Mark Crawley for his third consecutive single-figure score, and Bruce French.
Three wickets tumbled for one run in two overs, tilting the game back towards Hampshire, but with a tied match and a Nottinghamshire win after following on already on the ground this summer the twist in this tale is probably yet to come.Reuse content