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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Robert Ian Johnston
  • Born 1 July 1948 Belfast
  • Educated Belfast Royal Academy; Stranmillis College, Belfast
  • Occupation Schoolteacher
  • Debut 13 June 1979 v Surrey at Castle Avenue
  • Cap Number 533
  • Style Right hand bat; right arm medium pace / off spin.
  • Teams Woodvale

Ian Johnston was a top class all round cricketer, generally reckoned by his Woodvale team-mates to be the best the Club had produced for more that thirty years. He was, at his best, an elegant stylist, a free scoring upper order batsman, capable of taking the best attacks in the country apart. He did not, perhaps, fully justify himself at international level, arguably because, as was the case with Graeme Hick for England - though for different reasons - his selection was too long delayed. Once described by Murray Power as having been "one of the most promising young batsmen in Ireland for at least ten years", he might, with advantage, have been chosen for Ireland several seasons before he finally was. His batting success tended to have an effect on his bowling, which was somewhat pushed into the background. He had originally been seen primarily as a bowler, winning the first of his two Irish Schools Caps in this mode. He remained very effective at club level, even when he dropped his pace and became a purveyor of off spin.

As mentioned above, Ian gained his first representative honours as a pace bowler, for Irish Schools v Welsh Schools at Ormeau in July 1966. He did much to ensure a draw, after Ireland had been set back in the first over, with captain Michael Reith having his hand shattered by a beamer from Ian Wagstaff of Neath Grammar School, alma mater of Tony Lewis, among others. Ian Johnston had five wickets in the match, including, twice, that of another Neath student, opening bat John Bevan, later to become much better known his deeds with an oval, rather than round ball. Ian also came to the rescue with the bat, making 22* to help ensure a draw. His partner in a match saving 8th wicket stand, was the Irish gloveman and Ian's BRA team-mate JG - later "Doc" - Crothers (33). The following year, at Swansea, Ian led Ireland and Bevan was in charge of the hosts. Both had "captains' matches." Bevan won the toss and contributed 44 to the Wales total of 203. Ireland then collapsed to 98 all out, Wagstaff again doing the damage, this time by taking wickets! When asked to follow on, Ian opened the batting himself, something he had never done in any type of cricket. He proceeded to play a magnificent innings, making light of an injury. He was eventually caught and bowled by future Glamorgan medium pacer Graham Kingston for 154, made in 197 minutes with one 5 and nineteen 4s. He put on 65 for the second wicket with Crothers, the "Doc's" share being 15. Ian declared shortly after he was out but his enterprise was not rewarded. Wales knocked off the 180 they needed in 30 overs with Bevan making 80 before giving a return catch for Mike Halliday to take his first wicket for Ireland.

Ian was a heavy and consistent scorer for Woodvale for almost two decades. There were those who thought that he did not always achieve all that he might have, and certainly his failure make runs in either of Woodvale's successive Cup Final defeats at the hands of Waringstown in 1978 and 1979 a cost the club some much needed silverware. In the former year, he had hit a brilliant hundred in the semi final against Lisburn, but made little impact in the Final. The "Villagers" had gained a first innings lead of 48 with a half century by Roy Harrison their main score. This might well have been more had not Ian chipped in with 4-66. It was however essential that either he or Wills, preferably both, made second innings runs. Instead both were out Ivan Anderson's first over to leave Waringstown with a simple task. To rub it in, Ian made another superb hundred in the League shortly afterwards. The following season, Waringstown won by a single run, Wills twice passed 40, but Ian did not make a score. Nevertheless he is deservedly remembered for his successes for the Ballygomartin side rather than his few failures. It does, however, remain a mystery that nothing found its way into the Woodvale trophy cabinet, particularly in the early 80s, when Ian together with Wills and Stephen Warke linked up to provide arguably the strongest batting line up in the NCU if not in the whole country.

In the Guinness Cup, he scored 1259 runs at 29.27 with two 100s 50s and eight 50s. His forthright stroke play helped Ulster Town to four titles, three coming in four years.

His two hundreds both came against, the first on that normally benign track at The Mardyke, in his first season in the side, though he had already scored 63 against a stronger attack, South Leinster at Rathmines. He had helped lead the attempt to chase down the hosts 203, but after his dismissal the innings fell away and, in the end, Town were lucky to escape with the draw. It was a different matter at Cork, where they rattled up a formidable 264 before declaring. Ian made exactly 100, despatching the attack to all parts of the field. It was the hosts' best bowler who got him, Wally Booton, the former Birmingham League all rounder, having him caught. The other ton, 101 his highest score at this level, came at Ormeau thirteen years later. In a season in which they dominated the competition, Town stormed to a then record 294-3 declared. Besides Ian's innings, Warke, Wills and Chris Harte all passed 50. Simon Corlett then bowled the visitors out to enable the hosts to win by a massive 159 runs. He played a number of other innings of, arguably, greater value as they were against sterner opposition.

Thus in 1979, on his home turf, he made the top score of 89 at No 3 against Ulster Country to enable his side reach 172-8 - a by no means winning score. Then with the ball, he took the crucial wickets of Ivan Anderson (55) and Hugh Linehan but was unable to avert a three wicket loss. How much heavier the defeat would have been without him. Later in the summer he, with a sparkling 85, was with Corlett (5-47) responsible for defeating North West. In 1983 he passed the eighty mark again, recording an innings of 82 against South Leinster, at Ormeau, falling to paceman Gerry Delaney, as Town totalled a useful 211-9. The visitors just held out, despite Corlett's six wicket haul, their 182-9 owing much to a resilient half century by Ginger O'Brien.

Ian also, bowled to good effect on several occasions. In 1975 against South Leinster at Rathmines he had figures of 4-37, joining Corlett in a formidable seam attack to bowl the hosts out for 158. Unfortunately he then made a duck, but good batting by The "Doc" ensured victory. Four years later, against North Leinster at Phoenix CC, he again joined with the former Blue to dispose of North Leinster for 107. Ian's figures were 10.4 - 1 - 17 - 4. He fell to Clontarf medium pacer Rossa Bunworth for 8 in the reply but a six wicket victory was gained.

Ian's fifteen matches for Ireland, between 1979 and 1983, brought him 361 runs at 24.07. His bowling, rarely used saw him take four wickets at 45. In only his second match, he put on 149 for the 4th wicket with Anderson against Sri Lanka at Eglinton. The Islanders were not yet a Test side, but they were on the verge of such status, and had just beaten India in the World Cup. Batting first Ireland were 14-3 when Ian joined the master batsman. His share of the stand was 34, as Ivan made his sixth hundred at international level. Rain meant the match was left drawn; Ian did not bat again in the match. He again did well with the bat against Freddie Millett's XI at Ormeau in the next game. He put on an unbroken 107 for the 4th with Derek Harrison, before Ireland declared to force a two day win. Ian finished on an undefeated 42. He was also prominent on the tour later in the summer. A Lord's debut 21 was followed by a 64 against Wales at the attractive Marchweil ground. This time he joined Harrison (54) in 5th wicket stand of 95. With "Monty" on song with bat and ball, Ireland won by 10 wickets.

Ian was only to pass fifty on one other occasion. This was against MCC at Ormeau the following season. Ireland recorded a notable victory by 175 runs. Ian, batting at 6, came in at 86-4 and soon lost Harrison, but hen added 108 for the 6th with Monteith (46). In all, he faced 115 balls, batting 108 minutes and hitting 10 fours. MCC were never in the game thereafter, though Ian failed in the second innings, being bowled by young Australian Mark O'Neill, son of the Test batsman Norman.

Ian's bowling was, arguably, under used for Ireland, his best figures 2-41 v Middlesex at Rathmines in 1981 were surely less than he would have achieved had he bowled more. They did however include future Test batsman Wilf Slack, later to collapse and die at the wicket in a match in The Gambia in 1989. Ian's last wicket for Ireland was, certainly, his best. It was that of the great all rounder, now politician, Imran Khan in the Nat West Trophy match at Castle Avenue in 1983. Imran (41) had already been missed on 14 and Ireland, who flattered only to deceive in this game, badly needed the wicket!

After his retirement Ian entered on a vitally important second cricket career. As an administrator, most recently for the NICA, coach of Irish age group sides and the Northern Ireland Academy and an ECB Tutor, he put more into this aspect of the game than many. However he also served as an Irish selector, besides, more recently, being Adi Birrell's video analyst. Truly Robert Ian Johnston has made a tremendous contribution to the game he has graced and served for so long.