A tale of what could have been

David Johnson isn’t the first cricketer to take failure to the heart and, sadly, may not be the last.
Last Updated : 20 June 2024, 16:56 IST

Follow Us :


Bengaluru: We can't vouch for its authenticity, but a YouTube video claims David Johnson's first  (Michael Slater) of the three Test wickets came off a nearly 158 km delivery. A widish half volley that the Australian opener edges to Mohammad Azharuddin at second slip. There can, however, be no doubt over what Johnson's Karnataka and India team-mate Venkatesh Prasad's claims. Batters, Prasad says, in KSCA league cricket would be scared to face Johnson.

"When he burst onto the scene, he was an absolute tearaway," Prasad tells DH. "Batters then were $#*% scared of facing him. I don't know where he came from... No one knew. But he was too quick for his build... He wasn't too tall. He had an amazing run-up and a very good arm speed. He would sometimes be absolutely unplayable, especially when he would get the ball to reverse with his round-arm action."

Prasad's description of Johnson belies his returns though. He played a mere two Tests -- one in Delhi and the other in Durban, South Africa. Even for Karnataka, the pacer appeared in just 39 first-class matches spread over almost a decade for a tally of 125 wickets (average 28.63 and strike rate of 47.4) with eight five-wicket hauls and one 10-wicket haul. The hallmark of his domestic career was being part of three Ranji Trophy winning campaigns for Karnataka (1995-96, 96-97, 98-99). Johnson's story, however, is still more about what could have been rather than what it eventually turned out to be.

Someone, who had the potential to be the best pace export to the Indian team from Karnataka after Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad in the 90s, Johnson passed away in penury (well almost), falling to his death from the fourth floor balcony of his apartment here. The cops are treating it as a suspected case of suicide while his wife insisted he lost balance and fell while leaning over the balcony. The truth will come out sooner or later but there was no doubt that he led a difficult life for the last few years.

Johnson was hit by a severe gastrointestinal infection over a year ago that left his body fragile and him in financial stress. He was bed-ridden for months and when he finally got back on his feet, his coaching aspirations didn't meet the desired results. His ambitious David Johnson Academy had to be shut while his coaching gigs at other clubs didn't last long. So much so that his family friend, quoting his wife, claimed that there was no money to pay his hospital bills while he apparently skipped a few visits to hospitals for lack of money. The police claimed Johnson, who suffered from extreme gout, was also battling alcoholism and had undergone a detoxification.

"He had the potential to make it really big, but he got just a couple of opportunities (in Tests). Given the competition, you had to make an immediate impression," Anil Kumble, also Johnson's bowling colleague in Karnataka and Indian teams, told DH. "He did pick up a few wickets in Delhi and Durban, but after that he didn't get chances. But really sad the way it has all ended."       

Calling Johnson a perfect team man, Kumble said: "You give him a ball any time, in any situation and he would run all day long. He had a good fast bowler's mindset, very aggressive. He would intimidate batsmen with bouncers, stare them down... Skillswise, he was at his best when the ball would reverse. He couldn't get much bounce because of his (lack of) height but he was skiddy."

The repeated setbacks and failures resulted in severe depression and he even started, according to a family friend, hallucinating. Johnson is one of those cricketers who took failure to heart and suffered more than he deserved to.

Published 20 June 2024, 16:56 IST

Follow us on :

Follow Us