Spencer Johnson’s IPL millionaire price tag caps extraordinary rise


A year ago, Spencer Johnson hadn’t played a professional T20 match and it wasn’t long since he had been working as a landscape gardener. He still only has 20 official games under his belt and 17 wickets. But on Tuesday he became an IPL millionaire.

While Mitchell Starc took the headlines for his record-setting price tag, it is a tale such as Johnson’s that is arguably more extraordinary as he went to Gujarat Titans for AU$1.78million. He had gone in with base price of 50 lakhs which is approximately AU$90,000.

“Eighteen months [ago] I didn’t have a state deal or a Big Bash contract,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “I was working as a landscaper and greenskeeper. So fast-forward 18 months, yeah it’s definitely different situations.”

There was a time, not too long ago, when it looked like Johnson’s cricket career could be over. After suffering a stress fracture to his foot on his one-day debut for South Australia in 2017 he spent three years trying to get back on the park. In the end, last-ditch surgery was needed.

That conversation came during a breakout BBL campaign for Brisbane Heat where he soon got people talking. It wasn’t always the volume of wickets, but his nerves under pressure particularly at the death. Against Hobart Hurricanes he stopped Tim David from taking his team to victory and two days later against Melbourne Stars was too good for Marcus Stoinis.

Johnson has since become a target for overseas leagues with assignments in the Hundred, MLC and the Global T20 in Canada. The latter two do not appear in official statistics due to their lack of status, but he took nine wickets in nine games across those tournaments.

In the Hundred he produced the stunning return of 3 for 1 against Manchester Originals and was handed Australia debuts in both T20Is and ODIs. After impressing in the Sheffield Shield for South Australia at the end of last season he had also been placed on standby during the Ashes in case Starc became unavailable.

And then, in Dubai, after a selection of Australia’s World Cup squad had taken increasingly vast sums, the crores kept climbing for Johnson during the accelerated round of the auction and he eventually ended up at Titans where he sits second behind Rashid Khan as their most expensive player.

“It’s obviously a pretty special moment, I never really thought I’d be in this situation,” Johnson said before heading to Melbourne to face Renegades in the BBL. “But it was nice to get on the FaceTime back home in Adelaide [with] mum and to see her smile. It’s not just my moment, I guess it’s a moment for my whole family and they’ve been there the whole way. So for them to experience it as well, it’s pretty special.”

With this year being a mini auction and just 30 overseas spots up for grabs, Johnson thought his opportunity may not come. But it was a good night to be an Australian fast bowler. Between them, Starc, Pat Cummins, Johnson and Jhye Richardson went for more than AU$10 million.

“I think the longer it went, I guess you start to lose a little bit of hope,” he said. “So the longer it was going, I think the less chance I had. But at the end of the day I was in a position where I was in the auction, and this time last year I wasn’t. So whatever happened was going to happen, and anything would have been a good result.”

However, despite the vast sums of money on offer, Johnson does not want to go down the T20-only route and believes the red-ball game is actually where his strengths lie.

“Ideally, I’d like to play more red ball,” he said. “I think my body’s just let me down over the last few years but my body’s hardening and I’m getting ready to play, hopefully, some longer format cricket, which is, I feel, my better format.

“I think post-Big Bash, we’ll get back to South Australia and play the last four Shield games there. And then hopefully with a couple of performances, you never know what might happen.”

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo

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