Cricket / Man in the Middle: Sunday opening fits the bill for ebullient backbencher: Paul Johnson

Click to follow
The Independent Online
AMONG the bets none of us quite got round to making: that an England player would bludgeon 167 in the Texaco Trophy and two days later this remarkable score would be matched in the Sunday league.

Unlike Robin Smith, Paul Johnson of Notts finished up on the winning side, and Kent - for whom Trevor Ward's 131 and Carl Hooper's 94 would have proved enough on a sensible Sunday - were the victims.

On Monday Johnson added a swift 50 in a winning cause to his Sunday work. And with Notts taking a breather at the top of the early-season Championship table, Johnson is in ebullient mood, in spite of the dramatic mid-week announcement that he had stood down as Tim Robinson's deputy.

'I was a bit surprised to be opening on Sunday,' he recalls. 'The previous week Chris Lewis had gone with Mark Saxelby, but with Lewis on England duty a few names went into the hat and I was asked if I fancied having a go. The ball did swing for four or five overs but it was finding the bat. Before I could blink I was on my way to a hundred. Tim (Robinson) came in and played the ideal role. He got a bit of stick from the crowd when he played out a maiden, considering what was going on at the other end, but he started moving the ball around the field and we just went on and on.'

For 213 runs, in fact, in 28 overs, taking Notts past Kent's 264 with an hour to spare. 'It was a very important win for us. Winning and losing both have a snowball effect. Last season we lost early matches in the Sunday league and could never get the momentum back. We started off on the wrong foot again this year and I thought 'here we go again'. But now we've got the first win we must keep it going.'

Johnson was back in the headlines on Thursday, having decided to return to the back benches. 'It's no big deal. We did have problems last year with a change of management and one or two dressing-room niggles.'

In this upheaval Mike Hendrick came in as cricket manager and reduced the average age of the squad - Chris Broad, Eddie Hemmings and Kevin Cooper found new clubs for 1993.

'But that's all sorted,' says Johnson. 'I've resigned as vice- captain because I wasn't totally happy with my role, but there's no way I'm leaving. I want a breather to concentrate on batting, and I'd like to think that standing down hasn't jeopardised my chances of being captain in the future.'

Newark-born Johnson has spent his cricketing life at Trent Bridge. His consistency, notably in a vintage 1990 that brought over 1,500 Championship runs, was recognised with an England A tour to the West Indies in 1991-92.

'I enjoyed that. The way they play in the West Indies is how I like it. They bang the ball in short, but being on the short side that suits me because I like to cut and hook. Things went a bit wrong towards the end of last season when I broke my hand. Banged the knuckle down into the middle of the hand. When pre-season I broke it again, it really knocked the stuffing out of me. But it seems OK now and the specialist says it should recover strong as ever. That's why this innings was so important for me - I needed to get my self-belief back.'

Without the distractions of bowling ('I had five overs last year and I don't think the lads would stand for any more'), and temporarily free of the cares of office, Johnson at 28 is part of a successful set-up at Trent Bridge. A few more big scores and he will rejoin the eager pool of England batsmen-in-waiting.

(Photograph omitted)