Across the space of three days in 2011 playing for Queensland, Sammy-Jo Johnson dismissed Alyssa Healy twice.
It wasn’t long after she had been told there wasn’t a place for her with New South Wales. Now, nine years later, the stars have aligned to bring her back to Sydney as she pushes her case for Australia selection.
Her partner, Brian, found work in Sydney and after he had done so much to support Johnson’s career, it was a chance to repay the favour. And it just so happened that New South Wales had vacancies in the pace department following the retirements of Rene Farrell and Sarah Aley.
“As a young teenager the dream was to play for the [NSW] Breakers,” she told ESPNcricinfo. “I don’t think I’ve really come to terms with it. I don’t regret playing for Queensland; I’ve loved the opportunity, I’ve had nine years and they’ve helped me become the person I am today. I wouldn’t be where I am without Queensland Cricket. But it is nice to come back – this was a dream, now I get to do it when I’m at the top of my game and hopefully, it might give me a chance to put on that green and gold shirt.”
However, the journey has been far from easy. Her father died in 2012, there followed two years where she didn’t represent Queensland and jobs were lost, leaving the battle to scrape together a living and find somewhere to live. It appeared as though the cricket career could fade away.
“You come across adversities – everyone goes through different things – and experiencing what I did at the ages I did has made it so much easier when you are in a professional environment, because you know when you have a bad day. I’ve always got the outlook that there is more to life than cricket, but you enjoy it while you can,” she said. “Every day I get to put on the kit of whatever team I’m playing for, I just enjoy it, have fun. I’m a pretty laid-back person. I’ve also said it’s not a right, it’s a privilege to put on a shirt and that’s what I live by.
“Early doors I thought this is awesome – I want to play for my country – then life hits you smack bang in the face and you go, ‘hang on, am I good enough?’ You go through some ups and downs, start second-guessing your skill. I was driving three-and-half hours each way from Lismore to Brisbane three times a week to train, off the back of not a lot of money in women’s cricket. The love and passion for the game is what drives most of us, because anyone [of] my age realises it’s not about the money. We do it because we love the game and play with our mates.”
Johnson has pushed hard for that international debut over the last two years, earning regular Australia A selection and performing impressively for the Brisbane Heat in the WBBL. Where she plays her Big Bash cricket next season still remains to be confirmed due to the contract embargo currently in place, but her last two summers have brought 38 WBBL wickets while in 2018-19, she also hit 260 runs at a strike-rate of 139.78.
“My first [Australia A] tour was to India so that was very eye-opening,” she said. “I was actually very nervous because I’d never been to the subcontinent. You start second-guessing yourself a little – am I fit enough, am I strong enough? – but I played really well, and really enjoyed the experience. That set me up for WBBL 4. I just had self-belief and it’s funny what a bit of self-belief can do for you.”
Last year, Johnson closed up the gardening business she co-owned so she could focus more on her cricket and that international ambition. She is currently employed part-time with Rebel Sport, a job that allows her the freedom to focus on training and playing when needed.
“Trying to play cricket at this level, traveling, touring, it got too hard trying to run the behind the scenes stuff,” she said. “If I really want to give playing for Australia a red hot crack, I needed to commit those extra hours that I’m spending on paperwork and admin, into recovering and making sure I’m ready for my next session or game.
“I think [Australia] is the hardest team in the world to get into at the moment because they are so successful and everyone plays their role. You don’t want people to get injured, but I feel like it’s your only foot in the door at the moment – which is good because you want that competition. If I can keep churning out consistent performances with the ball and bat I’m hoping going to give the selectors no reason not to pick me.”
However, there is another challenge to moving to the next level: playing enough cricket. That is particularly relevant approaching a 50-over World Cup, which is due to take place next February and March in New Zealand, with the Women’s National Cricket League consisting of eight round-robin matches per team and a final. In May, when domestic cricket was briefly threatened with cuts amid Cricket Australia’s problems, Australia’s wicketkeeper Healy spoke out about the imbalance in the game, and Johnson believes the WNCL should be expanded to a full home-and-away season campaign of 12 matches.
“We train for so many months of the year and we’ve only just got to eight WNCL games,” she said. “Myself and all the players in other states want to be playing more cricket. The WBBL is fantastic, I think we have the right number of games for that and it now has its own window. I hope off the back of the T20 World Cup final that women’s cricket will only get bigger, but for the young kids coming through it’s not just about 20-over cricket. There’s a one-day World Cup next year and we need more 50-over cricket so the girls can continue to show their skills to put pressure on for the Aussie team.”
Come the new season, Johnson will be taking every chance she has to do just that.
Jason Holder hails fourth-day bowling effort to set up ‘special’ West Indies win
Jason Holder has described the fourth day of the Ageas Bowl Test as “by far the best effort” he had seen from a West Indies team during his time as captain and “one of the best” in his tenure.
West Indies took five wickets at a cost of just 30 runs at the end of a long day in the field, with Holder making the vital breakthrough in dismissing his opposite number Ben Stokes for the second time in the Test before Alzarri Joseph and Man of the Match Shannon Gabriel shared four more.
“It was a long hard toil and a hard-fought day for West Indies, and a day that definitely went in our favour at the back end,” Holder said. “The reason I say that it was the best day for me is down to the fact that every single time I asked for effort from those bowlers, no one said: no, I can’t, I’m too tired. They just all kept running in.
ALSO READ: Blackwood writes history in his own way
“At that stage when Stokesy and Zak [Crawley] were batting, the game started to look a little bit less likely for us to win. We knew we couldn’t lose – we backed ourselves not to lose – but we wanted to win the game, and we knew how important it was for us to win.
“Yesterday’s effort was by far the best effort I’ve seen from this group. And not only the bowlers – the fielders kept running round, getting through the overs, and we all kept our energy up right throughout the day.”
Holder said that once Stokes and Crawley had fallen within an over of each other, he sensed that “something special” was around the corner at a crucial moment in the Test.
“We’ve had so many dark days in the past that we understand moments in the game that we need to seize,” he said. “If we wanted to win the game, we had to break the partnership. I was fortunate to come on and to get Stokesy out, then Alzarri got Zak caught-and-bowled and that was a very sharp chance.
“When those two wickets fell, I knew we were in for something special, but it was just a case of us executing again. Then we got Jos [Buttler] and at the very end we were able to get Dom Bess who was a little bit annoying in the first innings.”
West Indies have a wretched recent record in the first match of series away to major opposition, with their last win in such a fixture coming in Port Elizabeth some 13 years ago. Holder said that record, combined with the absence of England captain Joe Root, meant that he had considered a good start to the series to be “really important”.
“In the past we haven’t started series well and we’ve always had to play catch-up. England missing Root was a big miss [because] he’s a high-quality player. We thought it was an opportunity to really get into their inexperienced batting line-up.
“It’s a massive, massive win. To beat England in England is no easy feat. We were able to do it last time we were here in 2017 so we all know what the feeling is like but things have changed drastically since then. They’re a massive unit in their backyard so to start the series this well is very promising for us and we feel proud about the way we performed.
“This morning I woke up and I just wanted to fast-forward to the end of the day with us winning. At the start there were a few nerves… but we knew once we got a partnership the English bowlers would go flat. Credit to England, they threw a lot at us.”
Holder also praised the 10 reserves on this tour, and suggested that a nets session at the Ageas Bowl before the first Test had been vital preparation. The majority of the reserves impressed in the intra-squad warm-up matches – in particular Joshua Da Silva, who made an unbeaten hundred in the second game – and Holder said they had been crucial to West Indies’ ability to hit the ground running.
“I could have seen it [coming], the way we prepared. Our preparation was spot-on. Before this game we had one of the best nets session I’ve ever had, and it was led by those reserves who ran in and challenged our batters – they got them out quite a few times.
“That sparked something within the group. I can’t ever forget the reserves who have come on this tour. I think a lot of credit has to be given to them for this victory, too.”
Who is Jermaine Blackwood? | ESPNcricinfo.com
Who is Jermaine Blackwood?
A 28-year-old middle-order batsman from Jamaica, Blackwood is a natural stroke maker, having played more than 100 first-class games in his career.
He was the leading run-scorer in the 2013-14 domestic first-class season in West Indies, and on the back of that form, Blackwood made his Test debut in June 2014, during the home Test series against New Zealand, where he made 63 on debut.
A regular in the side until the tour of Zimbabwe in October 2017, he made nine fifties and a hundred (against England, in 2015) but fell off the radar thereafter, having scored just 15 runs in his last five innings in that period, and been dropped by the side.
Strong performances in the domestic first-class system kept Blackwood within touching distance of the West Indies first XI, but barring a brief appearance as a concussion substitute against India in 2019, he did not make the team until the first Test against England in Southampton.
How did Blackwood make the cut for the first Test?
Before the pandemic curtailed the 2020 first-class season in West Indies after eight matches, right-handed batsman Blackwood was the tournament’s highest run scorer, pummelling 768 runs in 15 innings for Jamaica, which included a double hundred against Leeward Islands in the tournament’s last match.
Roger Harper, West Indies’ chairman of selectors said ahead of the tour that Blackwood marked a return to the side “on the sheer weight” of his first-class performances. Harper had also praised Blackwood’s “patience and consistency” in 2020.
But Blackwood might not have featured in the series at all, had it not been for the decision made by Shimron Hetmyer and Darren Bravo to not tour England. That meant Blackwood made the 14-man squad for the Test series as a middle-order replacement for the players who did not travel. That said, Blackwood made only 62 runs in four innings during the tourists’ intra-squad warm-up games, and might have been the man left out if West Indies had opted to play a specialist spinner in Rahkeem Cornwall.
What special relationship does Blackwood share with England?
Blackwood’s only Test century came in 2015 when England were touring the Caribbean, and over 41% of his Test runs have come against them.
Including his match-winning 95 in the fourth innings at Southampton, Blackwood has made three fifties and a hundred against England. His average of 55 against England is the best among all current West Indies players and stands behind only Lawrence Rowe, George Headley, Viv Richards, Brian Lara and Garry Sobers.
His unbeaten 112 at North Sound in 2015 earned West Indies victory and his 85 in the third Test at Bridgetown set things up for the hosts before he hit the winning runs in the fourth innings.
When West Indies toured England in 2017, Blackwood’s 79 at Birmingham was the lone contribution of note as West Indies slumped to defeat in the first Test after Alastair Cook pumped 243 in the first innings. After that, he made crucial contributions of 49 and 41 in the Headingley Test that followed, which West Indies won on the back of twin centuries from Shai Hope.
And with an opportunity presented in 2020, Blackwood delivered again with a fourth-innings 95 to help West Indies navigate out of a tricky chase and help them take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
What’s changed in Blackwood’s game?
Blackwood entered the Test series believing he had something to prove. Ahead of the series, he said that his new batting mantra was to “bat as long as possible” as he wished to change the “wrong impressions” people had of him.
“It’s been two-and-a-half years that I’ve been out of the Test team,” Blackwood had said during the intra-squad warm-up game West Indies played before the first Test. “This opportunity has come out and I have to grab it with both hands. I have something to go out there and prove against all the best bowlers in the world, I want to score runs against them.”
Before the squad flew out to England, Blackwood had stated what changes he had made to his game. “Right now, it’s a more determined Jermaine Blackwood and a more focused Jermaine Blackwood,” he said. “Being dropped helped me to go back and work on my game and my mental space, and to come back strong. It wasn’t anything too much to do with the technical aspect of batting, just some little tweaks. But the mental side, I had to change a bit. I did a lot of reading just to help my mental space going forward. That’s really helped me.”
After the intra-squad game, he said: “It’s about patience for me, spending lots of time in the middle. That doesn’t say if I get a bad ball I won’t put it to the boundary. I don’t change too much of my shot selection. It’s just staying a bit more patient, batting a lot of deliveries – trying to bat for a whole day, or a day-and-a-half.”
Blackwood did that magnificently against a hostile pace attack led by Jofra Archer on the final day of the Southampton Test. Despite falling just five runs short of a second Test hundred, his 95 was the first page of a new chapter in Blackwood’s Test career as West Indies took the series lead.
Recent Match Report – England vs West Indies 1st Test 2020
West Indies 318 (Brathwaite 65, Dowrich 61, Anderson 3-62, Stokes 4-49) and 200 for 6 (Blackwood 95, Archer 3-45) beat England 204 (Gabriel 4-62, Holder 6-42) and 313 (Sibley 50, Crawley 76, Gabriel 5-75) by 4 wickets
West Indies went 1-0 up in England for the first time since 2000 thanks to a superb 95 from Jermaine Blackwood which guided them to a target of 200 on the final day with four wickets to spare.
Their seamers had set up the win with a burst of five wickets on the fourth evening just as the game had started to look as though it was petering out into a draw, but it was Blackwood who dealt the killer blow with a superb knock on the final day.
Coming in at 27 for 3 with John Campbell retired hurt soon before lunch, Blackwood made England pay for their misses. He was put down twice, on 5 and on 20, and offered regular run-out chances at several points in his innings. But he batted brilliantly, pulling and cutting his way out of short-ball barrages from Jofra Archer and lofting drives over extra cover as he grew in fluency. He gave away a chance for only his second Test hundred on 95, but the returning Campbell scrambled a single into the leg side just before 6pm to take West Indies over the line.
England needed their tailenders to hang around on the final morning and Archer in particular obliged, flashing hard to pick up three boundaries to push the target up to 200. But Mark Wood edged a cut through to Shane Dowrich backing away before Archer gloved a short ball behind, giving Shannon Gabriel a five-wicket haul and nine in the match in his first first-class game for 10 months.
That left 200 to win. Phil Simmons had stressed on the fourth evening that Kraigg Brathwaite would be “the glue” in the fourth innings, with others batting around him, so there was immediate pressure on the openers.
But perhaps Simmons hadn’t counted on Archer. Campbell survived an lbw shout when Archer speared a yorker in at his feet, but his big toe did not: he hobbled off two overs later, and spent most of the day with an ice pack on. Archer sensed an opening and burst through it, piercing Brathwaite’s tentative defence shot as he dragged one on before trapping Shamarh Brooks plumb in front with a full inswinger.
Shai Hope got up and running with a pair of elegant cover drives off James Anderson as if to tempt West Indies supporters into dreaming of a Headingley repeat, but a loose drive soon followed which Wood burst through with a full ball that seamed in to clean him up. That left West Indies 27 for 3 moments before lunch, with Campbell retired hurt, and it was difficult to envisage any other result than an England win.
But Roston Chase and Blackwood came out after lunch with determination and enough positive intent to keep the equation ticking down. Blackwood in particular rode his luck. On five, he edged a cut shot to Stokes at slip, but was reprieved by England’s captain outsmarting himself, running round towards point in anticipation only to be wrong-footed when the chance came to his left.
Blackwood, who had spent the best part of two-and-a-half years out of the side going into this series, had looked his old, frenetic self in the first innings, playing what Dom Bess said was a “rogue shot” when running down the track and slashing to mid-off. But in the run chase, he instead managed to settle into a rhythm.
He and Chase were given testing examinations against the short ball. Jos Buttler dropped a chance off Stokes when Blackwood gloved down the leg side on 20, before Zak Crawley fumbled a run-out chance in the covers to offer another reprieve. A third in as many overs arrived when Rory Burns shelled an edge in the gully – though it would not have counted as Stokes had overstepped – and Blackwood made England pay for their profligacy.
In particular, he cut and pulled purposefully, scoring the majority of his runs behind square. An upper-cut off Archer was the pick of the bunch, and he survived a brutal spell from him that accounted for Chase, caught behind off a lifter aimed at his chin. Chase’s struggles against the short ball have been well-documented, and it was a classic, calculated set-up; a yorker fired in outside off, followed by a steepling bumper he failed to evade.
But Dowrich joined Blackwood in the middle and saw them through to tea, starting busily before settling into his innings and ticking over calmly and comfortably. There was time for a twist after tea. After Blackwood fired Wood through the covers and over mid-off for two boundaries in four balls, Stokes decided that it was up to him to make the breakthrough. He looked furious when he realised he had overstepped after Dowrich poked to slip, but made up for it next ball, reversing one away from the outside edge as Buttler took the catch behind the stumps.
Blackwood looked intent on reaching three figures, itching to take singles leading to several mix-ups with the new man Jason Holder, but continued to time the ball beautifully, upper-cutting Stokes over the cordon to move to 95. He threw away a golden opportunity for a ton, caught at mid-off for the second time in the match, but nobody was asking questions of his spot in the side after this “rogue shot”.
Campbell walked out at No. 8, eking out singles to take the equation into single figures, before he slashed a cut past gully and snuck a single off the pads to take West Indies to a famous win, with Holder, the inspirational captain, running through to seal the victory.
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