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Match Analysis

Manraj Johal's late-season emergence foreshadows joy of summers to come

Warwickshire debutant's 3 for 29 offers reassurance amid autumnal gloom

Paul Edwards
Paul Edwards
28-Sep-2021
Manraj Johal took three wickets on his first-class debut  •  PA Photos/Getty Images

Manraj Johal took three wickets on his first-class debut  •  PA Photos/Getty Images

12-6 looks more like an old-style price tag than a cricket score. Change the dash for a forward slash and knock off two bob and you have the label on the Mad Hatter's topper. Such thoughts seemed only fitting on an unhinged morning at Lord's, where Lancashire's collapse to Warwickshire's excellent new-ball bowlers looked something of a judgement on the decision to extend a five-day game into October. Those who called this match "a showpiece occasion" were stretching things a bit and those who referred to the Bob Willis Trophy final should have consulted a dictionary.
None of which is intended to criticise the late Bob Willis or the charities that will benefit as a result of this game taking place. It is merely to observe that the fixture seems something that has been tacked onto the end of a very long season.
For many cricket lovers the curtain should have been brought down on Friday, when Warwickshire's players piled on top of each other at Edgbaston after they had clinched the County Championship. Instead of which, we have an enormous encore which no one in the stalls has demanded. So as the number of wickets lurked menacingly just behind the number of runs one was grateful for Panzer's, the St John's Wood delicatessen whose almond croissants could even brighten any morning; even one on which the Jubilee Line had gone kaput because of signal failure at Baker St. I'd like to have seen Gerry Rafferty write a song about that.
At which point Manraj Johal came on to bowl at the Pavilion End. Lancashire were already neck-deep in the Grimpen Mire when Will Rhodes threw the ball to his 19-year-old rookie but I doubt Johal cared too much that the scoreboard read 26 for 6. This was his first-class debut and it was taking place at Lord's. Beat that with a stick.
At first the nerves showed a little. They may even have been evident in the third over when Johal bowled a short ball only to see Josh Bohannon pull it straight to Dom Sibley at midwicket. Two overs later Tom Bailey was leg-before to one that nipped back and then Jack Blatherwick obligingly held his bat out and edged a catch to Sam Hain at second slip. When Lancashire were finally dismissed for 78 in 27.5 overs, Johal's figures read 8-3-29-3.
It is a lovely story for the last week of the season and one made all the richer when you know the circumstances behind it. Johal is 19 and opens the bowling for West Bromwich Dartmouth in the Birmingham League. He first played for a Warwickshire age-group side when he was 11; he has been a Bear since he was a cub.
Five years ago, though, Johal was deselected from the county's Emerging Player Programme (EPP), a decision he greeted with a courteous refusal to be dissuaded from his chosen profession. Last October, after a year in Warwickshire's Academy and two further years on the EPP he signed his first professional contract.
"During his time in the pathway, Manraj has shown how determined he is to reach the top and he has also proved that he could overcome notable setbacks along the way," Paul Greetham, Warwickshire's high performance manager, said. "During lockdown he got stronger and fitter than ever by getting out running along the canals and by working on his skills by bowling to his dad in his garden.
"He was deselected from the EPP but reacted by winning his place back the following year by having an excellent season in the county age groups and in the additional skill-set groups. Manraj has worked very hard to get to earn this rookie contract and it's for him now to grasp this opportunity and to prove that he can make it in the professional game."
VVS Laxman used to give this advice to young cricketers; indeed, he probably still does. "Knock on the door. If you get no answer, knock louder. If there is still no answer, knock the door down."
To watch a young player make his debut in the last game of the season is one of cricket's most encouraging sights. In its way it is rather moving for it offers reassurance that there will be another season, another spring. Manraj Johal will not give a fig that this game hardly stirs most people's blood. It stirs his blood alright and for no other reason than that it is the next step on the way to the full realisation of his ambition.
He has helped the Bears bowl out Lancashire for 78 and he has watched as his side's opening batters make 120 without loss in reply. I might be risking things a shade here but I reckon Warwickshire have their noses in front.

Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications