Johnson ready to stop the rot

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MAN IN THE MIDDLE

Every team experiences good times and bad and no one at Trent Bridge would describe the current phase in Nottinghamshire's fortunes as a bright one. With few players combining experience and quality on the staff, they are heavily reliant on young players.

Some of them have shown great promise, but it will be some time before talents such as the 19-year-old Usman Afzaal and 18-year-old Paul Franks acquire the consistency that comes with maturity.

Nottinghamshire had only Durham beneath them in last year's Britannic Assurance table and pundits wonder if they might not even find the championship's newest county doing better this summer, especially under the captaincy of David Boon.

Their own captain, 32-year-old Paul Johnson, faces a stiff test of his leadership qualities. With both Nottingham Forest and Notts County relegated in the football season just ended, he does not want to complete a hat- trick for the city by finishing with the wooden spoon.

Johnson does not mind criticism but he does ask for fairness. He was especially annoyed to read Peter Roebuck's astonishing view that the county champions twice in the 1980s now barely merit first-class status.

"We have taken some criticism but it just drives us on to prove them wrong," Johnson said. "Peter Roebuck's comments were especially disappointing. Coming from someone who has only just left the game, they were particularly crass. Hopefully we will finish above Somerset and we can send him a copy of the table.''

Johnson's side were well beaten by Kent but with victories over Lancashire and Derbyshire in the two preceding matches they already have doubled last season's tally of wins. "We ended up with only eight fit men against Derbyshire and to win in that situation says a lot for what the side is capable of.''

THE TOP TEN

The 10 highest run-scorers in Ashes series

1 D G Bradman (Aus) 974 average 139.14, 1930

2 W R Hammond (Eng) 905

average 113.13, 1928-19

3 M A Taylor (Aus) 839

average 83.90, 1989

4 D G Bradman (Aus) 810

average 90.00, 1936-37

5 D G Bradman (Aus) 758

average 94.75, 1934

6 H Sutcliffe (Eng) 734

average 81.56, 1924-25

7 D I Gower (Eng) 732

average 81.33, 1985

8 A R Morris (Aus) 696

average 87.00, 1948

9 D G Bradman (Aus) 680

average 97.14, 1946-47

10 G A Gooch (Eng) 673

average 56.08, 1993

Peerless Bradman

Don Bradman, considered by many as the greatest batsman of all time, made four hugely successful tours of England, establishing the record for the highest Ashes series aggregate - indeed the highest for any Test match series - on the very first in 1930, at the age of 21. Having begun the tour with 236 at Worcester, he made a century in the opening Test, a double hundred in the second and then 334 in the third Test at Leeds. On that tour he made 2,960 runs at 98.66 in first-class matches and topped 2,000 first-class runs in each of his subsequent visits.

THE WEEK

AHEAD

Kent, who last won the County Championship in 1978, began this season with a pronounced sense of anticipation after finishing fourth last year, when they might have done better still had left-arm spinner Min Patel not lost his form at a critical stage.

The county hope the appointment of John Wright as a successor to Daryl Foster will bring about a seamless transition on the coaching side and there is already evidence that the side has begun the season in good fettle with wins over Sussex and Nottinghamshire.

Their credentials may be exposed to a stiffer test at Tunbridge Wells. Starting on Wednesday, they play Warwickshire, who have been hit by injuries but retain the competitive instincts instilled by Dermot Reeve.

Leaders Gloucestershire face an equally severe examination at Headingley, where Yorkshire will be attempting to build quickly on the fine win over Essex that they will complete at Ilford this morning. By Wednesday, Jack Russell's side may no longer be at the head of affairs. Champions Leicestershire will take over if they beat Lancashire today, although it is more likely that Glamorgan will go top by beating Durham, who are following on in Cardiff.

TERMS OF THE GAME

Yorker

The name for a ball that passes beneath the striker's bat, particularly on or just inside the popping crease, has been in use since the 1860s but its origins are unclear. One theory makes a link with "yerker or yarker", said to be dialect for "jerker", but a more favoured explanation is that it is rooted in 18th and 19th century slang, when the phrase to "york" or "put Yorkshire on someone" meant to trick, cheat or deceive.

Colourful history of Kent's smallest but most beautiful home

AROUND THE GROUNDS

Neville Ground, Tunbridge Wells

If nature gets its timing right, the Neville Ground in festival week has few rivals for visual beauty among English cricket venues. The combination of rhododendrons in bloom and a boundary ringed with marquees recreates a timeless atmosphere of the Home Counties at leisure.

Kent's smallest ground - in terms of spectator capacity if not playing area - has been hosting first-class cricket since Lancashire's appearance there in 1901, three years after it was opened by the Marquis of Abergavenny. The Neville's early history, like its famous purple flowers, is colourful. The Tunbridge Wells Cricket, Football and Athletic Club raised pounds 1,200 to build a pavilion in 1903 only for it to be burned down 10 years later during a protest by suffragettes. An identical structure was put up in its place, just in time for the ground to be requisitioned for the picketing of several hundred cavalry horses during World War One, which did nothing for the pitch.

Little has changed since then, although the land passed into the ownership of the local borough council in 1946. Of the other buildings in addition to the pavilion, the most important is the Bluemantles Stand, named after the club which originally shared the ground. Most facilities, however, including a souvenir shop, beer tent and even a bookmakers, are under canvas.

When the weather is favourable, deckchairs provide the most common vantage points, although the flat roof of the pavilion is popular with broadcasters and the press, providing an elevated view of the playing area.

Kent v Warwickshire (Britannic Assurance Championship) at Tunbridge Wells starts on Wednesday. The counties meet in the AXA Life League on Sunday.

Top of the form

Bowlers Wkts Last five (most recent on right)

1 D Malcolm (Derbys) 23 4-95; 5-50; 6-75; 4-24; 4-91

2 R Croft (Glam) 18 1-10; 4-84; 5-33; 3-54; 5-51

3 P DeFreitas (Derbys) 17 3-35; 7-64; 1-53; 5-46; 1-88

4 M Smith (Gloucs) 17 4-61; 6-45; 3-35; 1-44; 3-65

5 M Bowen (Notts) 16 0-8; 2-70; 7-75; 4-34; 3-103

6 A Caddick (Somerset) 16 1-59; 6-103; 1-16; 5-64; 3-50

7 K Evans (Notts) 15 6-40; 1-63; 1-68; 4-40; 3-115

8 M McCague (Kent) 15 1-54; 1-71; 7-82; 2-46; 4-33

9 A Johnson (Middx) 14 3-35; 4-26; 2-40; 2-66; 3-70

10 A Sheriyar (Worcs) 14 3-26; 0-30; 4-53; 5-54; 2-90

Batsmen Runs Last five (most recent on right)

1 S James (Glam) 382 52; 46; 54; 76; 153

2 S Law (Essex) 371 63; 118*; 84; 30; 76

3 G Rose (Somerset) 347 10; 109*; 191; 0; 37

4 D Lehmann (Yorks) 339 43; 177; 30; 8; 81

5 R Harden (Somerset) 336 136*; 103; 32; 50*; 15

6 M Ramprakash (Middx) 334 26; 145; 2; 50; 111

7 N Johnson (Leics) 308 87*; 38; 6; 24; 150

8 H Morris (Glam) 296 96; 18; 25; 21; 135

9 A Moles (Warks) 275 6; 33; 1; 67*; 168

10 J Crawley (Lancs) 273 19; 51*; 101; 41; 61

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