Leon Johnson: Outstanding leader, talented batsman, ambassador of the game
By Akeem Greene
When the West Indies Four-Day Championship culminates in April it will signal the end of an era for an astute leader of Guyana’s cricket, Leon Rayon Johnson.
The announcement of the Guyana Harpy Eagles’ squad for the third round of the Regional Four-Day also saw Johnson making public that come April 1 – the last scheduled playing day of the current championship – he will retire from National duties in all formats.
However, he has not fully closed the door on playing the sport, as he is open to exploring “other cricket opportunities.”
In the midst of that, the left-handed middle-order batsman said he remains committed to supporting Guyana’s cricket off the field.
While the decision to retire might have come as a surprise to some, it was felt in some quarters it was just a matter of time as the 35-year-old had not been churning out the big numbers and consistency was lacking.
His First-Class career started in 2004 against the Leeward Islands at the Enmore Community Centre Ground where he batted at five, behind the likes of Krishna Arjune, Sewnarine Chattergoon, Narsingh Deonarine and Travis Dowlin.
He was run out without making a run in Guyana’s lone innings of that match.
Almost 20 years later and with 124 matches under his belt, the disciplined and hardworking Georgetown Cricket Club lad has amassed 6,436 runs at an average of 31.86 with 40 half-centuries and six hundreds.
They say numbers don’t lie but for the stylish left-hander, who in his youth days was touted as the next Brian Lara, those numbers don’t do justice.
‘Johno’, as he is affectionately known, possesses an abundance of talent and extremely high cricketing IQ.
The critics and fans alike would say he could have achieved more, and rightly so, given the promise he displayed in those formative years.
International stardom, it was widely felt, would be a natural attainment.
Sadly, that was not the case, as the opportunities his contemporaries enjoyed just didn’t come his way.
A total of 15 international games- nine Tests and six ODIs- were all Johnson was afforded, finishing with averages of 25 and 16 respectively.
Classy batsman, low conversion
When in full flow, Johnson is quite easy on the eye.
The cover drive and the cut to backward point are signature shots out of the cricketing manual, just as the horizontal shot to the shorter stuff.
No doubt he possesses a solid technique, but his biggest challenge seems more on the mental side, getting over those hurdles to the big scores.
In First-Class and List A cricket combined, Johnson accumulated 62 scores above 50, but only eight were hundreds.
As one who commits more than 100% to the sport, he expressed his commitments off the field have now affected his ability to train consistently.
Apart from being a husband and a father of three, Johnson is now a progressive businessman, having partnered with former teammate Steven Jacobs to form a construction company, First Change Builders Inc.
His most fruitful season was 2015/16, with 807 runs at an average of 57.64 with two hundreds and five half-centuries.
It is the season that brought him briefly back into the West Indies fray, after making a One-Day International debut against Bermuda in 2008.
His impact on the field has not been overlooked as in 2019 he was bestowed with the Golden Arrowhead of Achievement award.
He led the Guyana Jaguars (now Guyana Harpy Eagles) to five consecutive titles, from the start of the Professional Cricket League in the 2014-15 season.
It is an achievement he truly holds dear to his heart, being able to help rescue Guyana from the bottom of the regional standings to a true championship team.
His mentorship sparked a surprising change- Guyana producing more fast bowlers, who dominated the PCL and made it into the West Indies teams.
More often than not, the Jaguars would win the championship before the 10th round due to the number of bonus points accumulated from the fast bowlers.
“It was not easy,” he stated when questioned on the decision to retire.
“It was a difficult decision but as I said, I have transitioned to other things. It is no secret that I do a lot of things away from cricket and I can’t commit fully to training and that is the main issue.”
“I could commit to playing cricket but training and playing go hand in hand, and if I can’t do it to 100% I don’t want to rob a young player of an opportunity and I feel I would be doing Guyana a disservice,” he further expressed.
At his side during the announcements was Chairman of Selectors Ramnaresh Sarwan, Head Coach Ryan Hercules, and Territorial Development Officer of the Guyana Cricket Board, Colin Stuart.
Growing up with his grandparents in Meadow Brook Gardens and having a career molded at the iconic Georgetown Cricket Club, Johnson can reflect on a career with the glass half full than half empty, and it is certainly unfathomable to think after this season ends, it would be the last we see of him around the national set-up.
He did chuckle when asked if coaching or a position as selector is something on the agenda in the future.