Richard Johnson has waited longer than most for international recognition. After he was picked for England's tour of South Africa in 1995-96, but had to withdraw with a back injury, he waited seven years before he was picked for a Test again. However, once he got his chance, against Zimbabwe at Trent Bridge in June 2003, he made the most of it, picking up 6 for 33. Andrew Miller caught up with him in Sri Lanka, between England's preparations for the first Test:



Dream debut: Johnson on his way to 6 for 33 against Zimbabwe
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You were first picked for an England tour in 1995-96. Eight years is a long time to wait ...
It's not been too bad. When you're 19, 20, everything happens really quickly. When I got that call-up for the South Africa tour, I knew I was already suffering a back injury, and my tour place was always subject to fitness. So I never quite felt a part of the set-up back then, but at least my name was in the reckoning. When I recovered, I started going on A tours, and then finally the trip to India in 2001-02. It's taken a while but now I'm out here, and as the cliché goes, it's a dream come true. Coming to places like Sri Lanka is what every cricketer longs to do.

After all the injury problems you've suffered, I suppose it's a bit ironic that your chance has come through another's misfortune?
That's one of the things about bowling, particularly in this day and age, with so much cricket in the international calendar. You are bound to find yourself thrust in from time to time. It works both ways - in the past I've been the one in possession, only to break down and give someone else an opportunity. It's the way the game works. Unfortunately injuries will happen.

With 15 wickets in two matches, you've certainly made the most of your opportunities!
Yeah, it's been pretty good so far. People will say it's only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, but if I hadn't taken wickets against those people, then everyone would have been doubting whether I was good enough anyway. So it's a bit of a no-win situation. But luckily, I did take wickets. I know I've got to prove myself against the bigger nations, but I can only perform against the people I'm pitted against.

How has your bowling style altered since you were first called up?
When I started out on my career, I was more of a back-of-a-length seam bowler. It was only later, when I got to about 25, that I learned how to swing the ball. So I feel as though I can adapt to any given situation. On my debut against Zimbabwe in Durham, I bowled a full length and swung the ball away; later at Chittagong I slipped back a length and hit the deck. If you grow up as a swing bowler, particularly in English conditions where the ball is always doing something, then you can sometimes get stuck in that mode. It then becomes harder to drag your length back when the situation requires. The route I took is probably more beneficial.

In that case, injury permitting, you would have been five years into an England career before you were fully equipped?
That's right. To be honest, I don't think I was ready for Test cricket at 20. I had showed promise in county cricket, but I probably didn't know my game well enough. But you never know - those sorts of ifs and buts can never be answered. All I know is that by the age of 25, I was more prepared. Looking back, I sometimes wonder how the hell I took any wickets at all. My game has definitely changed for the better.

Have you cut back on your pace in order to swing the ball consistently?
Not really. I've been tinkering with my action this winter, and I've made a couple of modifications to my back foot, which have slowed me down fractionally. But that should only be for the short term. If you look at it technically, the biomechanics suggest that I should be able to bowl quicker, once I've adjusted my timings. I've bowled one way for 15 years, and it's a drastic change to make. So I might be slightly off the pace at the moment, but not massively. Happily, I'm still getting a bit of bounce, and that's how I'll take a lot of my wickets.

Biomechanics must be particularly crucial for you, given that you had injuries to many different parts of your body?
Yes, they are, and it is really a very simple concept. It's all about getting your body in the right position to put the ball in the right place. If you've got lots of angles and lots of variables in your action, you're more likely to spray the ball around, and do yourself an injury as well. It's about keeping it all simple. If you work with straight lines, you will generally release the ball in a straight line.

So who instigated the modification to your action?
It's something that I've been working on with Kevin Shine at Somerset. With England this winter, Mike Watkinson was on hand in Bangladesh, although his role was merely to keep an eye on the little pointers that Shiney and I had agreed on. He's not been giving me any one-to-one coaching as such.

It must have been a big step to move from Middlesex to Somerset?
Yeah, it involved quite a bit of change. I'd become very settled at Middlesex. I'd been playing cricket there since I was nine years old, my father was a county member, and I still find myself checking their scores all the time - they are a big part of my life. But I'd reached a point in my career where everything was coming a bit easily for me. I was a regular in the first team, nicely settled, and not pushing myself as hard as I could. And I felt that something was missing technically. Shiney was a friend of mine anyway, and he helped me so much in one short session, that it got me thinking - what could he do for my career?

Success stories like that must be a boon for county cricket, which has taken quite a battering lately ...
Absolutely. There's been an ECB initiative to improve coaching standards across the counties. The highest level - level four - includes all this new stuff about biomechanics, and guys like Shiney and Peter Moores are taking coaching forward. Middlesex is still a place where I've got a lot of friends, but I wanted desperately to play for England, and felt I could improve under new guidance. And stats-wise, that has been the case - at Middlesex I was averaging around 27, but at Somerset I've dropped to about 22 or 23.



Man of the Match with after his nine wickets in the second Test against Bangladesh at Chittagong
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How big would it be to win this series. Where would it rank?
It would be huge - we did it last time, and as any of the guys involved will tell you, it was a monumental effort, not only as bowlers and batters, but obviously with the weather as well. This is meant to be a cool time of the year, but let me tell you - it's still pretty warm and humid out there! We are under no illusions about the challenge ahead. Bangladesh were on a bit of a learning curve, and we did the job required. This is the real test. Nothing less than 100% will do.

As a bowler, how prepared are you for the challenge of Sri Lankan pitches?
It's going to be hard work, but as I say, I feel confident that I can adapt to suit the conditions. As seam bowlers, we all have to study Chaminda Vaas and mimic his approach. He has been brought up on these tracks and adapts accordingly. Early on, he looks to swing it, later he rolls his fingers over the seam and looks to cut it. It is something that Darren Gough did to good effect in 2001, and it's something we have to keep in mind. But it's hard to know in advance how effective my offcutters will be, as there's not a lot of opportunity to use them in England. The ball tends to deviate off the seam anyway.

What did you make of the rugby?
Oh, that was brilliant. We watched it all in the hotel bar and it was tremendous. The way they have worked towards that goal is a lesson for us all. Basically, they have had the same side for three years, who've stuck together and grown confident in each other's abilities. They trusted each other implicitly, and fully deserve their rewards.

How can English cricket emulate that achievement?
Well, we're getting there. The current management have already said they are building towards the 2007 World Cup, as far as one-dayers go, and if that group can stay together and stay focused, then they could create a similar feeling of 100% trust. The rugby boys believed in their abilities in all situations. They haven't always played well, but they've never lost that belief.

You were meant to be on your honeymoon at the moment! How's Nikki coping with being a cricket widow?
Oh, she's fine - she's out here at the moment, in fact. We knew before we got married that I was hopeful of being on a tour, but then of course I wasn't in the original party. The honeymoon was all set up when I got that late call-up, but she fully understands. She knows it's my job and that I'm desperate to play for England.

At least you'll be home for Christmas ...
Yeah, the scheduling is pretty intensive, but not too bad. Eleven weeks is a reasonably long trip, but there's Christmas to look forward to, and a good break before the West Indies. The pay-off, of course, is three Tests in three weeks, which is tough by anyone's standards. But if you're on a roll and winning, you tend to want to play the games as soon as possible. And on the flip side, if you lose a game, it's good to get straight back in and try again. It does make it tough for non-starters to break into the side, though.

Then again, you started on the sidelines, and you're now leading the attack ... When the schedule is this hectic, there will always be a lot of turnover. But these days we have a big group of bowlers to rely on, and once you're in that squad, you might not always be playing, but you are always there or thereabouts. I've just got to keep taking my chance and I'll become more of a fixture in the side.

What goals have you set yourself?
I'm not really one for setting goals. I've had so many ups and downs in my career that it would only lead to disappointment. My one aim is to stay fit. If I can do that, then I already know that I'm good enough to take wickets and stay in the side.