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What is in the water at North Otago cricket? First came Nathan Smith, who made his debut for the Otago Volts while still at school. Now the province is buzzing about Llew Johnson, who might be at a Christchurch school but is North Otago through and through. Hayden Meikle speaks to Johnson, the Otago under-17 cricket captain and St Andrew’s College First XV fullback, ahead of another big sporting year.

Q: How old are you, mate?
I’m 16, turning 17 soon.

Q: Do you prefer Llew or Llewy or Llewellyn? I’ve seen it all three ways.
Just Llew is fine. It started off being Llewy when I was younger but just Llew is fine now.

Q: Where does the name come from?
It’s Welsh. I’m pretty sure it’s in the family somewhere, through Mum’s side. I’m not really sure.

Q: When did you first pick up a cricket bat?
I think I was just 3 or 4. I started pretty young, just in the backyard. Then I fielded for my older brother’s team when I was about 5. He’s four years older than me. I used to be a bowler but not really any more.

Q: How do you like to play the game?
At a fast pace. Fast flowing. I seem to enjoy that a lot more rather than being tied down. But I try to stay nice and relaxed. I don’t try to get too nervous about anything.
I just like letting things come to me.

Q: You recently smashed 135 not out off 68 balls for Otago at the national under-17 tournament. How did you enjoy that?
The field was all in when I went out to the middle, so I thought I’d watch a few balls and see what was happening. It was reduced to 22 overs. I wanted to put the fielders back so I thought I’d take risks. It ended up paying off. The ball came off the bat well, which was good.

Q: Best innings you’ve played?
Yeah, it was. Really good to get to three figures. The whole day went by really fast.
We’d actually been at New World about 15 minutes before the toss, because it had been raining, when we got the call that the game was on.
The boys just sprinted to the van and went straight out to the field.

Q: How did you enjoy the experience of captaining the Otago under-17 team?
It was different. I haven’t really had much opportunity to be a captain before.
I enjoyed taking on the role.

Q: Did you idolise any cricketers growing up?
Yeah, I really enjoyed watching Stephen Fleming when I was really young.
Now, I really enjoy watching Kane Williamson bat, like everyone else.
He’s just such a nice batsman to watch.

Q: What are your goals?
At this stage, I’d like to get through the rugby season with no injuries and then try to make the New Zealand team for the Under-19 Cricket World Cup next year. That’s actually being played in New Zealand. We’ll see what happens after that. Hopefully some doors will open. Away from cricket, I might look at a polytech course in Dunedin, or maybe head to England to play sport over there.

Q: Was it a tough decision for you and your family to leave Waitaki Boys’ High School and head to Christchurch?
Yeah, it was tough leaving my mates here. But I think it was the best thing for me. I think I’ve improved a lot.

Q: And you’re enjoying life at St Andrew’s?
Yeah, it’s going good. The facilities up there are unreal. I’m training four days a week normally. I can train three times a week on grass wickets, and there are good indoor gyms and everything.

Q: Your other sport is rugby. How has that been going?
I played fullback for the St Andrew’s First XV last year. I want to give it another good crack. At the end of the year, I’ll probably have to look at one sport or the other. At the moment, it’s more cricket, but we’ll see how footy season goes.