Johnson enjoys capacity for magic

ENGLAND IN SOUTH AFRICA: A young bowler will have his first taste of the international game in return to a traditionally tough arena
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The Independent Online
Although Richard Johnson can be considered a surprise selection for the senior England tour party, he is by no means unacquainted with fame. Indeed, two achievements last season made him the envy of his profession.

It was Johnson, then a largely unnoticed 19-year-old, who on 27 May in only his fourth Championship match completed an extraordinary double, dismissing Brian Lara for the second time in less than three weeks.

His first ball to Lara had lowered the record-breaking batsman's colours in a Benson and Hedges Cup tie on 10 May, bowling him for 34, but this was of much greater consequence. Lara, on the fantastic roll that had begun with his 375 in Antigua, was poised to enter the exalted company of C B Fry, Sir Donald Bradman and Mike Procter in making a sixth consecutive first-class century. History beckoned again until, on 26, a flick at a leg-side ball had him caught behind . . . off Johnson.

This alone would be valuable fodder for quiz compilers but there was more to come, seven weeks later. Now the young man who had begun the season in the Second XI realised every bowler's fantasy, taking all 10 second- innings wickets in a Middlesex victory at Derby. Having taken 7 for 17 in nine overs, he ended with 10 for 45 from 18.5.

The first for 30 years to take all 10 in a first-class match on English soil, Johnson greeted his achievement with typical modesty. "I bowled better in the first innings," he said. "I just had more luck this time."

Curiously, Ian Thomson of Sussex, who had acquired the same distinction in 1964 was rewarded with a place on the last pre-boycott tour to South Africa by an MCC or England team, the following winter.

Johnson has, with his selection, fulfilled one wish expressed in the wake of Derby. "I wouldn't like to be remembered solely for that performance," he said. "I've still got lots to achieve." At 6ft 2in and almost 14 stone, Johnson has strong shoulders and a broad back, and there is something in his style borrowed from Angus Fraser, the Middlesex colleague he has been groomed to succeed.

His talent was first spotted when he was just seven by Frank Sharman, who recruited him for Sunbury, where he enjoyed much success and recognition, progressing through the Middlesex colts sides to make his Second XI debut in 1992. A tourist with Young England sides at Under-18 and Under-19 level, his impact at senior level in 1994 brought him a trip to India with England A last winter, even though he played only one more first class match after Derby before having an operation on a cartilage problem. His progress since his return has been steady rather than spectacular. Not suited to Indian wickets, he played in only two first class matches on the A tour, acquiring only one wicket.

In domestic cricket this year, his return is a comparatively modest 40 wickets, although they have cost only 20.3 runs each and he has again had to contend with the disruption of injury.

It is his ability "to hit the deck with the ball pretty hard", as Raymond Illingworth put it yesterday, combined with the youthful exuberance of one not 21 until 29 December, which has persuaded England that he might be a better proposition on South Africa's quick wickets than Craig White, Peter Martin or the ever-undervalued Tim Munton.

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