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From the Archive: The last Somerset Pace Bowler to play a Test for England

With Craig Overton in Australia with the England squad preparing for the Ashes series, we have been running a number of stories focusing on Somerset players who have worn the Three Lions.

The last Somerset pace bowler to represent England was Richard Johnson and we spoke to him recently to find out what it’s like to represent your country.

Richard joined Somerset ahead of the 2001 campaign and played an important role as the team lifted the C&G Trophy at Lord’s that year. He was also a member of the Twenty20 Cup winning side of 2005.

During his time at the Cooper Associates County Ground, Richard was called in to the England Test squad for the final three matches against Australia in 2001. How did he find out that he had received the call-up? “Kevin Shine, who was Somerset coach at the time, told me about it,” he said. “That was certainly better than how I got my original call up back in 1995! That time I was in a car driving with some mates to watch Middlesex play because I had a back injury. I was going to have some treatment up there and on the way I asked if anyone minded if I put the radio on because I felt that I had an outside chance of getting on the England ‘A’ tour. Raymond Illingworth was being interviewed and he read out the names of the main squad that would go to South Africa and when he said my name I nearly crashed the car! One of my mates asked if that was my name and I said ‘I think so’. The first question he was asked after the announcement was ‘why have you picked Richard Johnson?'”

Obviously getting called in to a Test squad is a massive honour but did it mean more because it was against Australia? “To be included in a squad to play against Australia is extra special,” he said. “It’s the biggest series you can play in. From my point of view all my family and friends were in Middlesex but I wanted to move to Somerset because I felt it gave me a better chance to play international cricket. I felt that being coached by Kevin Shine would help me improve and that bowling at Taunton would help too. If I could do well at Taunton then I would be in the reckoning. That call-up justified everything that I had done by upping sticks and moving to the South West.

“It was a great experience just being around that group of players. Although I missed out on all three matches I got a sniff of what I hoped would be around the corner. At the age I was then I’d gone past the intimidation stage because I’d played with or against those guys for a long time. I didn’t feel intimidated by anyone. I really enjoyed being around that group but the hard part was the not playing. Missing out three times was tough.”

It was a similar story for the popular bowler on the tour of India, where he once again missed out on selection for the Test matches as he explained. “I played one warm up game, took three wickets and bowled ok so to miss out again was hard,” he said. “You start wondering if you’re ever going to get an opportunity but you just keep trying to do the same things and keep taking wickets. Then you just hope that your opportunity will eventually come along.”

That opportunity did come on June 5th 2003 when Richard made his Test debut against Zimbabwe at Chester-le-Street. It could not have gone any better!

He claimed figures of six for 33 in Zimbabwe’s first innings as the tourists were bowled out for 94 and also made 24 from just 14 balls in England’s first innings. He was named Man of the Match as England won by an innings and 69 runs.

What does he remember of that match? “When I got the call up again the England side was quite a bit different to the one I’d been involved with a few years earlier,” he said. “There were a few younger players around and it was really good. We batted first and as a bowler I sometimes think that’s quite good because it allows you to settle into the game a little bit. I got a few runs at the end of the innings and that helped my confidence a bit too.

“To be honest, I actually got things wrong when I started bowling. As I stood at the top of my mark all I was thinking was: make them play! I ran in and just threw my front arm at the guys to make sure that they had to play every ball. I was picked to swing the ball away but I actually nipped the ball back because I got my action completely wrong. As I was a bit older, experience then told me to just go with what I had on the day. That’s what I did and I got five lbw’s and a left-hander nicked off! I now use that as part of my coaching; whatever comes out on the day, you’ve got to just cope with it rather than trying too hard to make something different happen.”

Unfortunately he also picked up a knee injury in the match that ruined his season.

“I had an on-going knee issue throughout my career and was managing my knee pretty well at the time but I fell awkwardly on it towards the end of the Test. I slipped in the field and it flared up which put me out for a few weeks.”

Richard was recalled to the Test squad for the winter tour of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and featured in one match against each country. He was again named Man of the Match against Bangladesh after finishing with match figures of nine for 93.

“I played pretty well in Bangladesh and bowled well in the one-dayers,” he said. “I bowled well in the Test too and then we went to Sri Lanka. I got really bad food poisoning at the end of our time in Bangladesh and turned up in Sri Lanka feeling awful. When the first Test came around I was due to play and I thought I would be alright. A couple of the other players, one of which I think was Nasser, pulled out on the morning of the game with illness but I was determined to play. Then the toss went up and we ended up fielding first! It was about 38 degrees and 90% humidity and I was so ill during that Test. I felt so bad. I got through it but bowled averagely. I had to rule myself out of the next match because I was so ill. That ruled me out of the third Test too.

“I was still in the mix after that tour but I went for a routine clear-out of my knee and the surgeon discovered a bit more damage than first thought. So the routine clear-out became a fairly major procedure which ruled me out of the tour of the West Indies and that was that really.”

Richard also featured in 10 ODIs in 2003 and helped England to victory in the final of the NatWest series against South Africa. However, it is his Test debut that still ranks as his greatest achievement in the game. “As a kid I always wanted to play Test cricket,” he said. “It’s the pinnacle of what we do. Playing Test cricket was the be all and end all for me. The highlight of my career was getting my cap and taking to the field with the Three Lions on my chest in Test cricket.”

What advice would Richard give to Craig Overton? “Everyone says that the most important thing is that you enjoy it but that goes without saying,” he said. “You’ll do that anyway. You’ve got to be yourself. You have to be the person that got you there in the first place. That’s the hardest thing to do. You might start to think that you need to change what you do but ultimately you have to be you.”

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