Ashes Tests: 22
Record: 2 wins, 4 losses, 3 draws
Off the Mark
Ian Johnson will always go down as the captain who lost back to back Ashes series. The unenviable record takes away from what had been a steady career spanning ten years of international cricket.
Johnson featured in 22 matches against England, and enjoyed a solid all-round return. His off-spin procured 42 wickets at 37.85, while he contributed 485 runs with the bat at just under 17.
Captaincy couldn’t have started out any better for Johnson, with Australia crushing England by an innings and 154 runs at the Gabba. After being controversially overlooked for the top job, Neil Harvey (162) and Arthur Morris (153) responded in style. Johnson himself added a rapid fire 24* at the end to guide Australia to 601. The captain then picked up five wickets for the game as England was humbled for 190 and 257 in reply.
The 1956 tour started out promisingly, but like the 1954/55 tour, it quickly turned into a nightmare. The second Test at Lord’s was a triumph for Johnson and his men, with Australia shocking the hosts by 185 runs. Colin McDonald (78) and Jim Burke (65) opened well for Australia, guiding them to a respectable 285. Five wickets to Keith Miller restricted the hosts to 171, before Richie Benaud’s impatient 97 gave his side a 372 run lead. Miller picked up another five-for to give Australia a commanding one nil lead after two Tests.
The fourth Test at Old Trafford was an unmitigated disaster. Peter May won a crucial toss on what would turn out to be an unplayable dust bowl. Taking full advantage of friendly fist day conditions, England amassed an imposing 459 on the back of centuries to Peter Richardson and David Sheppard. Australia’s reply started well, with McDonald and Burke reaching 32 and 22 respectively. But that’s where the positives ended. Nobody would reach double figures, as Jim Laker terrorised the tourists. He snared 9/37 as Australia crumbled to be all out for 84. McDonald once again stood up in testing circumstances, but his 89 was in vain. Neil Harvey was out first ball (he lasted one more delivery in the first innings) while batsmen five through seven all failed to score. Not to be ignored in all of this was the bowling of Jim Laker. The English spinner wasn’t happy with the nine wickets he took in the first innings. So, for the first time in Test history, he took all 10. In one of the most dominant displays of bowling imaginable, Laker took 10/53 from 51.2 overs, to finish the match with record-breaking figures of 19/90.
Johnson wasn’t a popular choice for captain. Many believed that Harvey and Miller were the logical successors, but the selectors opted for experience in what they saw as a challenging period for Australian cricket. Hostilities bubbled away between some of the younger players, but they were professional enough to remain quiet.
The only way for Johnson to gain the approval of his teammates and the public was to shine on the field. Sadly for the incumbent skipper, his form never reached any dizzying heights. The role of the Australian captain had, and always will be to inspire his teammates with a match winning performance. This was something Johnson never managed to do.
However, Johnson would be credited for making cricket a more international game. Tours to the West Indies, India and Pakistan promoted international expansion, with the world starting to see the merits of cricket played outside of England and Australia.
Played and Missed
Johnson was the first Australian captain to lose back to back Ashes series during the 20th Century.
Johnson is one of only a select few Australians to have scored 1,000 runs and taken 100 wickets in Test cricket.
Johnson is one of the pioneers who used drift as a way of deceiving batsmen.
Sid Barnes once described Johnson as being “Australia’s non-playing captain.”
Johnson became a successful commentator after cricket, and was lucky enough to call the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.