Cricket: Johnson saves champions' blushes

Worcestershire 257 Leicestershire 69 and 141-4 Match drawn
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The Independent Online
THERE'S something to be said for the Browning version. April is a good month to be in England. May is a problem, reminding us what early- season cricket is all about. Sitting around in overcoats, watching the rainfall until the umpires call the game off, which is exactly what happened here yesterday.

It's a safe assumption that Leicestershire didn't mind. They had been looking down the barrel of their first defeat as county champions after Phil Newport and Alan Sheriyar had bowled them out for 69 and forced them to follow on. Getting away with three points for a draw is more than they could have hoped for when Worcestershire had them 14 for 3 in their second innings at tea on Friday. That's when the rain set in.

If it was tough on the home county to miss out on 16 points, it was just as hard on Neil Johnson, Leicestershire's new overseas player. Not out for 87 overnight, he was 13 runs from a debut century for the county after flying into Heathrow from South Africa on the first morning of the match.

Not that the 27-year-old left-hander from Natal was worrying too much about his lost opportunity. He was more than content that his innings had helped save the match. In fact, listening to him, I got the feeling that he was happy to have survived each delivery, the way the ball was moving about in the air and jagging off the seam.

"I was nervous all the time I was out there," he said. "The ball did a lot more off the pitch than it does at home with the Kookaburra. The seam is a lot bigger on the English ball" - something that England's bowlers discover to their cost when they go overseas and struggle to make the ball deviate off a straight line. "I'm having to learn not to move so soon, but to let the ball come on to me and play later. Just as with my bowling, I'll have to learn to bowl a fuller length, the way Phil Newport did so well in our first innings."

Johnson may not have been the first choice to replace Phil Simmons, but if he comes to terms with county conditions as quickly as he appreciates their demands, Leicestershire's first innings here might be no more than an aberration. The champions could defend their title with much more determination than many have predicted.