Spencer Johnson interview: 'Surrey call was a no-brainer... but I'm on standby for T20 World Cup'

Spencer Johnson interview: 'Surrey call was a no-brainer... but I'm on standby for T20 World Cup'

It did not take much time for Surrey newboy Spencer Johnson to get into the south London swing: the day after arriving in the capital earlier this month, the Australian was at Selhurst Park, watching Crystal Palace’s thrashing of Aston Villa on the final day of the Premier League season.

Not so long ago pictured in a retro Tottenham shirt (“I bought that when Ange [Postecoglou] took over”), is the quick already an Eagles convert?

"I think I might be now!” he laughs. “They won 5-0, so if there's ever a sign to go for a team...

“A couple of mates that played for my club side back home in Adelaide were heading there and they had a spare ticket. They said: ‘Do you fancy it?’, and I said: ‘Absolutely!’. It was the day after I got in, so I didn't have any plans and it was pretty cool to watch a Premier League game.”

Johnson is with Surrey for the first eight games of the Vitality Blast, which starts tonight, as headline cover for the county’s T20 World Cup contingent, with bowlers Chris Jordan, Reece Topley and Sam Curran part of the England squad that flies to the Caribbean tomorrow, along with batter Will Jacks.

“I wanted to keep playing while the World Cup was on,” Johnson explains, having been on the cusp of making Australia’s final 15 himself. “It's a shorter flight to the West Indies, if something does happen over there to one of the quicks. I'm on standby.

Spencer Johnson is hoping for a late call to the Aussie T20 squad (AFP via Getty Images)
Spencer Johnson is hoping for a late call to the Aussie T20 squad (AFP via Getty Images)

“[But] regardless of the World Cup, being part of this environment and playing for Surrey is probably on most cricketers’ to-do list. When the opportunity came up, it was an absolute no-brainer.”

Johnson has already made his mark at the Oval, last year famously producing a ridiculous 20-ball spell of three for one on his Hundred debut for the Invincibles, who went on to claim their first men’s title.

That display was part of a remarkable and belated breakthrough season in which the 28-year-old at last put years of injury frustration behind him, completing the odd transition from landscape gardener to Australian international and overnight millionaire at the IPL auction in little more than 12 months.

Johnson has flown straight to London from India and, despite falling out of the Gujarat Titans XI during the second half of the tournament, believes he is a better bowler now than the one that left home in the spring.

"I think it's more things in your subconscious,” he says. “You know you can't bowl certain areas to certain batters. The talent in India is unbelievable. There are guys you've never heard of hitting balls further than you’ve ever seen them hit so it keeps you motivated to be improving. You have to keep adding to your game.”

There is particular urgency to do so as a bowler in a format that has seen batting go frankly berserk, totals in excess of 250 posted eight times during the IPL season just gone, compared to twice in its history before that.

“You have to be able to adapt to the way batters are playing now.”

The cricketing world is waiting to see the impact of such a paradigm shift in leagues and competitions that do not use the IPL’s controversial impact substitute rule, but Johnson insists it is not for his breed to sit around and accept billing as cannon fodder.

“As a bowler, you can’t really be happy with going at 10 or 11-an-over,” he says. “You have to be able to adapt to the way batters are playing now, whether it’s different plans or adding different skills.

“It’s the way the game’s headed: batters are adapting, so bowlers have to adapt as well.”

Johnson was on the fringes of Australia’s Ashes squad last summer and retains Test ambitions, despite playing only one first-class game for South Australia this winter. Intriguingly, he raises the prospect of turning out for Surrey in the County Championship should the stars align this summer.

For now, though, all focus is on the white-ball and the challenge of helping Surrey end their bizarrely long wait to add a second Blast title to the inaugural triumph of 2003.

“I’m here to win,” says Johnson, who is set for a debut at Hampshire tonight, part of a hectic start that sees Surrey play at Glamorgan tomorrow and then at home to Somerset on Sunday.

“Three games in four days isn't something I've done a whole lot of. In the Big Bash it's pretty spaced out. But we get a pretty good break after it so hopefully we can get three wins and enjoy that.”