Cricket: Johnson reviving Middlesex fortunes
PUBLISHED: 08:00 04 September 2018
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Principles learnt in his playing days at Lord's are helping Richard Johnson revive Middlesex's County Championship Division Two fortunes.
The Seaxes’ interim head coach now has three wins out of three since taking the reins in the wake of Richard Scott’s departure in June ahead of this week’s trip to Bristol to face Gloucestershire.
Johnson admits he has shaken things up a bit based on what he was taught during his bowling stint with the north London county in the 90s – namely ‘If you don’t perform you don’t play, but if you do, young or not there are opportunities’.
“We’ve got back to what we had when I grew up here at Middlesex where you had to perform to be in the side, you had to perform to stay in the side and second team players had to perform to get their chance in the team,” he said.
“That is an important and quite simple message for everyone that you have to perform in matches to get in the side and stay there.
“I think the senior players know they have under-performed. They are starting to understand that and put performances in, but also the fresh faces who have come in give a vibrancy, urgency and a different feel in the changing room.”
That philosophy has seen some stalwarts left out, while there have been promotions for England Under-19 ace Ethan Bamber and batsman/keeper Robbie White.
Former England quick Johnson denies promoting Bamber – who has nine Championship wickets already – was a ‘punt’ on his part and says White too is justifying his faith.
“Ethan has done amazingly well, but I don’t see it as me having taken a punt with him,” he added.
“I think the advantage I’ve got is I’ve seen guys like Ethan in the second team a lot, so I understand they are good players. Now it is about mentally converting from second team to first team.
“You can have faith in a young guy like Ethan because in second-team cricket he hits the right areas and you know you can transfer that to first XI cricket so you give him his go. If they are good enough you put them in.
“We felt we needed an injection of new faces and wicketkeeper was another of the areas we looked at, so Robbie White came in and batted beautifully at Northants in difficult conditions.
“He was unlucky to miss out against Sussex where it was just about getting as many bowlers and batters into the side as we could.
“He is another guy who I feel is a good player and having the young players showing what they have got creates competition throughout the squad.”
The three wins have brought Middlesex to the fringes of the Division Two promotion race, 32 points adrift of second placed Kent.
Johnson believes such a revival was always possible given the number of result pitches Middlesex play on.
“I think there was always the feeling we could get on a run in this division where we are always playing on sporting wickets that are doing a bit and where you know there is going to be a result at the end of it,” he said.
“If you get on the right side of those wickets and get some results you always feel you are in the hunt even though you may be three wins behind someone.”
It’s no secret Johnson has applied for the head coach’s job on a permanent basis, and while others are rumoured to be favoured over him, his record thus far as sitting tenant amounts to a decent audition.
He is coy about what the future may hold, but concedes after an eight-year apprenticeship under close friend Scott, applying might be his real punt.
“I’ve thrown my hat in the ring,” he added.
“Why? I don’t know. Why not would be my retort to that really.
“I suppose after those eight years where I’ve learnt so much, you look at it and think, is now the time to step up and take the reins? Do I want to work under someone else? You don’t know do you? We’ll see at the end of the season.”