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The Aussie late bloomer who's gone from gardening to surprising $1.78m IPL payday

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20th December, 2023
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Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins may have been the biggest money winners – but it’s a rather less celebrated, injured-riddled Aussie quick who has been left a bit dazed at finding himself at the centre of the unlikeliest rocket-to-riches fairytale at the IPL auction.

Spencer Johnson had been held back for years by injury setbacks but today finds himself contemplating a faintly unreal $1.78 million deal to spearhead the Gujarat Titans in next year’s competition after he suddenly became the IPL’s most wanted man late in Tuesday’s bidding in Dubai.

So Johnson, the left-armer whose amazing year started with him reaching the Big Bash League final with the Brisbane Heat before he went on to make headlines in the UK and also earn his Australia debut, has ended 2023 by effectively entering a new world of both fame and wealth.

“I was working as a landscaper, greenkeeper,” Johnson said. “Fast forward 18 months, it’s definitely a different situation.”

Spencer Johnson of Oval Invincibles Men gathers the ball during The Hundred match between Oval Invincibles Men and Manchester Originals Men at The Kia Oval on August 09, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Davidson - ECB/ECB via Getty Images)

Spencer Johnson. (Photo by Alex Davidson – ECB/ECB via Getty Images)

Preparing to get back to duty with Brisbane in a league that he hadn’t even played in this time last year, the 28-year-old Johnson was left admitting on the eve of Thursday’s match against the Melbourne Renegades: “I never thought I’d be in this situation … I wasn’t expecting anything.”

The South Australian even wondered if he had missed the boat when his name didn’t feature early in the auction as Cummins was snapped up for a record $3.67 million by Sunrisers Hyderabad before Starc topped even that with his $4.42 million deal with Kolkata Knight Riders.

But some of his brilliant performances this year – not least his debut in England when he enjoyed the best-ever 20-ball spell of 3-1 for the Oval Invincibles in The Hundred – meant the late bloomer was deemed worthy of going for 20 times his asking price of $89,000.

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“That performance was something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Yeah, this was a pretty special night,” he said of that launch pad at The Oval.

“I felt like I had the potential, it was a question of whether I could get myself right,” added Johnson, who still thinks his main strength could prove to be in the red-ball game.

“Ideally, I’d like to play more red ball. 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.”

He was on stand-by for the Ashes squad in case anything happened to Starc and his performances in first-class matches suggest he could have a serious Test future, with Josh Hazlewood having asked admiringly: “Where’s he been?”

And Johnson has made it clear playing for his country remains his big ambition, especially after gaining his first taste of the international game with his ODI debut against India in July and his T20 bow against South Africa in Durban.

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