North Otago cricket has another boy wonder.
Less than two years after fellow North Otago tyro Nathan Smith made his debut for the Otago Volts at the tender age of 17, Llew Johnson matched that achievement.
The talented former New Zealand Under-18 batsman made his debut for the Volts in a Super Smash twenty20 game against Northern Districts at the University Oval, in Dunedin, at the start of the month.
Johnson kept his place in the squad for the following two games in the competition.
Playing alongside players of the calibre of Neil Wagner, Hamish Rutherford and Anaru Kitchen, and facing some of the quickest bowlers in the country, was a great experience for the youngster, and he acknowledged his head was still spinning a little this week.
“Yeah, a wee bit, but I’m starting to get hold of it now,” Johnson told the Oamaru Mail
“It’s just getting used to all the trainings and stuff that is the biggest thing.”
“It’s pretty cool to get a go with Otago this early in my career.”
In some respects, it was an ideal situation for Johnson to begin what will hopefully be a long and fruitful professional cricket career.
There is less at stake in twenty20 cricket, and with the Volts out of the running for the Super Smash title, coach Rob Walter gave the debutant simple advice before his first game.
“He gave me a pretty clear message – just play freely and enjoy it and have fun. There was no pressure on me or anything so I could just go out and enjoy it.
“That was pretty good to hear.”
Nevertheless, Johnson admitted he still felt very nervous before facing his first ball on January 2.
He managed seven off seven balls in his opening game, scored six and grabbed a catch against Central Districts in New Plymouth four days later, and chipped in with five and a catch in a rematch with the Stags in Invercargill on Tuesday.
“I’ve learned my weaknesses pretty quickly. There are some things I need to work on, and also just some tactical stuff, and learning the game of twenty20 a bit better.
“I didn’t spend enough time with the bat in the middle to feel comfortable, but I’m starting to get used to the speed of the bowlers.
“It’s a big step up from schoolboy cricket.”
Johnson has always been on the radar as a special talent.
In 2013, he scored 159 for North Otago at the South Island primary schools tournament, obliterating a record held by former Black Cap Craig McMillan.
At 14, he scored a First XI interschool century for Waitaki Boys’ High School, before completing his schooling on a scholarship at St Andrew’s College, Christchurch, and at 16, he scored 135 not out off 68 balls for Otago under-17 at the national tournament.
A quietly-spoken, mature young man, he has also had to deal with disappointment in his career.
Playing for the Volts was bittersweet as Johnson had dreamed of representing New Zealand at home in the Under-19 World Cup, which starts this weekend.
“Yeah, that was the goal. But I had a pretty bad provincial under-19 tournament, so that fell through.”
The Volts have one more game in the T20 competition, against Auckland at Eden Park Outer Oval on Sunday, before resuming the Ford Trophy and Plunket Shield competitions.
Johnson will soon be based in Dunedin, where he is going to study applied science in sport at Otago Polytechnic and live at a new student village near Logan Park.