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Left-arm legacy: Can Spencer Johnson be the next Mitchell Starc for Australia?

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Roar Guru
29th December, 2023

Young fast bowlers can only dream of emulating the career of shooting star Spencer Johnson, rising from landscape gardener to IPL millionaire.

If he were a baseball player Hollywood moviemakers would be drooling over this theme of their next movie: overnight sensation starts career promisingly, overcomes career-threatening injuries to be in demand by franchises around the world and gets offered the contract of a lifetime.

Though, at the age of twenty-eight, he has not quite been an overnight sensation with injuries hampering his cricket progression. Now, he is reaping the rewards with a $1.78 million IPL payday being just one of them. A lesson to all cricketers, do not give up!

Johnson suffered a foot stress fracture in his early twenties and you can only imagine the self-talk it took to convince himself that cricket was to be his chosen profession.

With his smooth, easy, natural left-arm bowling action Johnson attracted the attention of observers when he made his BBL debut for the Brisbane Heat in 2022, including noted fast bowler Brett Lee who was impressed after witnessing just two deliveries from the South Australian quick.

Johnson’s ability to stifle attacking batsmen is what stood out for me when I saw his debut, that and the thought he would represent Australia in the future. He has remarkably become a death bowler without any real self-inspired intention, his ice-cool nerves making him ideal for the role.

At this point, Spencer Johnson is shaping up as an ideal replacement for Mitchell Starc with a like-for-like left-arm bowling action. Starc has indicated he may give up white-ball cricket soon which presents an excellent opportunity for Johnson.

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 playing for Oval Invincibles Men. (Photo by Alex Davidson – ECB/ECB via Getty Images)

Having a left armer adds variety to the attack and Wisden recorded that of the 120 fast bowlers to have taken a hundred Test wickets, only sixteen have been lefties.

One of those, of course, is Mitch Starc with Travis Head saying in a press conference he hopes Johnson can develop into a match-winner like Starc.

Johnson appears suited to all formats, stating to ESPNcricinfo that he doesn’t want to pigeonhole himself as a T20 player but hopes to get more opportunities in the red-ball format too.

A bit about Spencer Johnson… he went through age-group and representative cricket for South Australia, before moving to Queensland and playing for Redlands, the home club of Marnus Labuschagne. A fresh start brought rewards with his breakout season for the Heat and instant attention.

Teams he has played for so far include Australia, Brisbane Heat, South Australia, Adelaide Strikers, Los Angeles Knight Riders, South Australia under-19s, Australia A, Oval Invincibles and Surrey Jaguars in Canada. Notably for the Invincibles he returned figures of twenty balls bowled, nineteen dot balls, one run and three wickets after flying to England and making his appearance a day later.


During the Ashes series, Johnson was placed on standby in case Starc was unavailable for the final two Tests.

Australia's Mitchell Starc appeals successfully for the wicket of England's Ben Stokes during day four of the third LV= Insurance Ashes Series test match at Headingley, Leeds. Picture date: Sunday July 9, 2023. (Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

(Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Is all this attention on Johnson coming too soon? In 2024 he joins the Gujarat Titans in the IPL as their second-most expensive player behind Rashid Khan. Similar spotlights were shone on Australian Cameron Green and Black Cap Kyle Jamieson who also landed big contracts, but are now battling form, injury and selection issues.

Johnson has been confronted with injuries and is now coming out the other side and hopefully will have a long, productive career with Australia. Will he be too old for Test cricket? Ryan Harris may be an inspiration for Johnson as he was also a late starter to Test cricket and at the age of twenty-nine began a successful career.

Spencer Johnson has the physical attributes, style and mental attitude to make a considerable mark in Australian cricket and could present an exciting combination with Lance Morris and Cameron Green. But on current form, it is hard to see the current fast bowling cartel relinquishing their spots to heirs apparent.

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Let us hope that there are considerable opportunities for players of the calibre of Spencer Johnson.