Says managerial, analytical & listening skills key to Captaincy
By Sean Devers
Guyana and West Indies cricketer Leon
Johnson hails from the Amerindian Village of Aratac in Santa Mission, a community located up the Kamuni Creek, a tributary of the Demerara River.
Leon’s cousin Delon Fernandes, who played for Guyana U-17s in T&T in 2008, is the only other person from Santa Mission to represent Guyana in Cricket.
Located 25 miles from Georgetown, the village is only accessible by boat.
Leon has represented West Indies, Guyana, Guyana Amazon Warriors, Guyana Board President’s XI, Sagicor High Performance Centre, West Indies A and West Indies Under-19s.
Born on August 8, 1987, Leon spent the better part of his first five years in the ‘Mission’ and attended Santa Mission Nursery school for a year before moving to Georgetown.
The son of Keith Johnson and Inez Fernandes, Leon attended Starters Nursery School for a year and St Margaret’s Primary in the City before going to St Rose High School.
The 32-year-old currently holds the record for being the only Guyanese to score a double century in a Regional U-19 tournament which came in 2005 against
Barbados in St Vincent. Dave Joseph from the Leewards scored the first double against Guyana at the Eve Leary ground in Guyana in last round in 1989.
Leon also holds the record for most successful Captain in Regional First-Class cricket, leading Guyana to five consecutive titles from 2015-2019, breaking Tamar Lambert’s four in a row for Jamaica from 2009-2012.
In 2017 when Guyana won its third title, Leon became Guyana’s most victorious First-Class Skipper surpassing West Indies’ most successful Captain Clive Lloyd and Roger Harper who have led Guyana to two First-Class championships each.
Leon first played for Guyana U-15s in 2002, his Demerara U-19 debut was in 2003 and First Class debut at 16 against the Leewards at Enmore on January 30, 2004 before making his Guyana U-19 debut later that year.
The Guyana U-19 skipper led the West Indies in the 2006 U-19 World cup before taking over from Shiv Chanderpaul as Guyana First Class Captain against CCC in 2014.
In the 2007 Carib Beer season Leon scored 427 runs at 42.70 and 12 days after turning 21 he made his ODI debut against Bermuda on August 20, 2008 at King City in Canada where he made a fifty in his second match.
After being selected in the squad twice against New Zealand, Leon finally made his debut when West Indies played its 500thTest against Bangladesh on September 13, 2014 in St Lucia when he became the 300th West Indian to play Test cricket.
However, he has not played Test cricket since making 1 & 12 against Pakistan as an opener in Sharjah in November 2016.This
season, Barbados broke Guyana’s title winning streak although Johnson made 460 runs including an unbeaten 189 against the Windwards in Dominica in addition to two half-centuries at an average of 41.81.
“The first team I ever captained was St Roses in 2002 when we won most of our games and reached the zone final and the Captaincy role was quite enjoyable.
There are a lot of qualities that a good Captain should possess. A few that stands for me are management skills, obviously there is more than one role for a captain, not just setting fields and things like that you have to be able to manage those various roles efficiently.
A good Captain should listen, you obviously get advice in Sports from different factions and you should be able to listen and not think that your way is always right. Listen to advice and be able to break down what you think is right at that time. You must be able to analyse situations not only on the field but off the field sitting inside and think fast.
Management skills, Analytical skills and the ability to listen to others are three key attributes that make a good Captain.
I also believe that a Captain should also be someone with experience. If you have that experience on the field, then you will be well equipped to do all those things and make it much easier because of your experience of playing over a length of time,” Leon Johnson said.
Johnson said the biggest challenge as a Captain is dealing with losses and failure.
“If you are consistently losing as a team, that’s a big challenge for a Captain to come up with new ideas and strategies of moving forward but it’s a good challenge to try and
pick yourself up and move forward. But that’s one of the hardest things to do. You have to keep your players motivated and that’s off the field as well.
If the players give 100 percent on the field and know they give their best and results don’t go your way, you could deal with that, it’s just about keeping them motivated and keep wanting to play and remind them why they do it and why they love the game so much,” said Leon who has a hundred and 13 half-centuries in 75 List ‘A’ games.
“The first time I got a call to play for the West Indies was for the series in 2008 when we toured New Zealand. I did not play any of the two Test matches. I got recalled again in 2014, again against New Zealand in the Caribbean.
I did not play again and a couple of months later I got called up when Chris Gayle got injured so I knew that I would have to open the batting. It was a good feeling although I had to wait a while and carry the drinks but I was very happy to make my debut.
I knew that the 500th Test match was very historic. Being the 300th player at that time did not really bear any significance to me…yes being the 300th player is great but the most important number to me was one. To be able to walk out onto that ground to play my first Test was much more significant to me,” explained Leon, who has six tons and 39 fifties from 117 First-Class matches.
Johnson was looking well set for a debut century when he was given LBW on 66 and did not take the referral.
“With that referral! To be honest, as a batsman you sometimes feel that you are out when the ball hits your pad……that you are in trouble, and the Umpire was quick to make his decision and I felt I was out.
I went to the non-striker who was Kirk Edwards and he said that was at wide angle and could not see. He said ‘if I am not sure and you are not sure take the review’ but the time had passed by three seconds.
It was very disappointing walk to the change room. I looked at the replay …….and even the replay looked out. But then hawk-eye showed the ball would have missed the leg-stump and up to today it is a ‘what could have been’ moment for me,” added Leon who has played six ODIs and 14 T20 matches.
“I was not disappointed that I was asked to open but disappointed that I did not make enough runs opening the batting. But I was disappointed that I was never given the chance to bat in the middle after my short comings as an opener,” said Leon, who has two fifties from nine Tests and Averages 25.8.
“There is a big gap between First-Class Cricket and Test Cricket not only in the West Indies but world over, it’s a step up for everybody who transitions from first Class to International cricket.
Our players have a very good skill sets and work ethics but at the international level your mind-set is very important, so I think it’s having that mind-set to go along with the skill factor and work ethic that makes good international teams. The more players you have with that mental fortitude, the better you are as a team.”
Leon said that growing up, life was simple and lots of fun.
“I spent most of my days outdoors playing and every holiday I would go back to Aratac and spend the days swimming and playing bumper ball cricket. I had several slinging-shots and would shoot birds and lizards… …. I won’t say I regret it… but being mature now when I look back I won’t say I was happy to do that, but it was fun back then.”
“I played mostly cricket at St Roses High and a bit of basketball. We did not have much space so we played on the Basketball Court. But I would say cricket was big at St Roses.”
Leon joined GCC early in 2000 on the advice of four of his school mates who were members.
“I was in first form and used to play with the bigger boys. I wanted to join GYO because my close friend Tyrell Tull was the Keeper there. I actually practiced there a few times but the other guys persuaded me to join GCC and the rest is history since I played U-15 in the next two years.”
“I always wanted to be a batsman…I actually wanted to be an all-rounder…. I bowled medium pace when I stared at GCC but I had an issue with my knee when I was 13 and the doctor advised to stop bowling since I was putting too much pressure on it. I had it in a cast for four weeks so I took up leg-spin since I wanted to always be involved in game somehow,” he informed.
“Playing for Guyana in itself was one of the highlights of my Under-15 days. I scored my first century (119) against West Demerara at DCC. Guyana also toured England in 2002. We were the first Guyanese U-15 team to tour England and that was also a highlight of my younger days.
I first played for Demerara U-19 in 2003 and I honestly thought I should have made the Guyana U-19 that year but the selectors did not see it that way, I was very disappointed.
I actually made the senior Guyana team a few months after that, before I had played for Guyana U-19. I thought I could have made the team, I had consistent performances. I made the U-19 team the next year,” Leon informed.
There are three matches that stand out during his U-19 days with his double century in 2005 against Barbados at the top.
“The second would be when Tull got injured before the Bermuda game in Jamaica at Lucas in 2004. He was the only Keeper on tour so I kept and had five dismissals and made 80.
And in the same tournament, against Barbados, Tull went off the field and I kept and caught Kevin Stout off Devendra Bishoo. I got 4-15 in the second innings. So I had a dismissal as Keeper, got four wickets as a bowler and made runs. So that game stands in my memory,” said the left-handed batsman who bowls right arm leg-spin.
“Brian Lara is my favourite player. He is a once in life time player with an appetite to score big runs and the way he scored them was dazzling and an inspiration not to only for me but for so many others in the world,” Leon stated.
Away from the game, Leon enjoys spending time with his wife Carolyn (he got married in 2012) and his three kids Joshua, who is six and twins Oliver and Ava, who are almost three.
“I also enjoy spending time with my extended family and sometimes I go to the club and chat and play cards with the youngsters,” added Leon.
His brother Antonio Fernandes lives in St Marten with his mom and has already played for Leewards U-15, West Indies U-16 and Leewards U-19.
A level 2 Coach, Johnson said coaching is an option but he has not decided as yet what he will do post cricket.
“Cricket opened up a lot of avenues for me and when I stop playing I will explore those options,” disclosed Leon.
He said his mom has been his biggest supporter and when he made his century at DCC she was jumping with his brother who was then five months, in her arms.
Leon added that all of his family members have supported him and thanked Les Romalo and Richard Jodah for their continued support.
“In my younger days GCC players Ramnaresh Sarwan, Reon King, Neil McGarell and the late Ivor Mendonca also encouraged me, along with my buddies Tull and Jason Benn,” said Leon who played for GCC, Blairmount, Aranguez and Central Sports in T&T and Sandwich Town CC in Kent England.
“The Jaguars Franchise has ‘Zoom’ seasons Monday to Friday in the mornings and I have some equipment at home since I take fitness very seriously and train twice a day.
I also use a ‘ball in socks’ to bat, while I bribe my six-year-old son with toys and sweets to bowl me in the house which of course my wife does not approve of.
So that is basically my days now with COVID-19 around,” Johnson, who scored 144 against Sri Lanka in an ‘A’ team series, concluded.
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