West Warrnambool cricketer Leigh Johnson will play his 274th game this weekend, setting a club record.GROWING up around the corner from Davidson Oval, it’s no surprise Leigh Johnson found his way to West Warrnambool Cricket Club.
Nanjing Night Net

As a lightly framed nine-year-old, he started with the club’s mini colts under the guidance of his uncle Ken Lucas in the late 1980s. At the tender age of 13 he progressed to senior cricket and at 16 he graduated to A grade ranks.

Twenty-two years later, Johnson, 35, is preparing to become West’s most capped player.

Johnson will break Dean Hurford’s club record for the most number of senior grade games played when he lines up for his 274th match with the Panthers in Saturday’s Warrnambool and District Cricket Association division one grand final against Nestles.

“You never think about playing that many games,” the top-order batsman said.

“You are playing 14 games a year if you are lucky. Some years we would have played eight when you take out the washouts.”

He estimates he would have played 230 games in A grade or division one.

But the Warrnambool accountant isn’t planning any major celebrations.

“Obviously this week it doesn’t mean that much because we have got the grand final. This week is all about the grand final. You can’t think about it (the record) at all. I might think about it after the season or in a few years’ time.”

Johnson, who has scored 8286 runs in his senior career, boasts an impressive list of achievements in the game.

He was last season’s WDCA cricketer of the year, he has finished second in the award several times, nine times he has been named West’s club champion and he has represented the association too many times to remember.

Yet there is one major prize missing — a premiership.

He was a member of West’s two most recent grand final appearances in 2003 and 2010 when Nestles and Allansford took the major prize. He also played in a second-grade season-decider when he was 15 but that too was unsuccessful.

“I have 10 mates every weekend and winning one is what it’s all about and sharing it with them. We tasted it a bit with the Twenty20 (victory in January) but this is bigger.”

Among those mates on Saturday will be his younger brother Simon, who has been a permanent member of the side for the past 12 years.

While a grand final triumph would be personally satisfying, Johnson said he wanted to help deliver a flag to the club that meant so much to him. West’s last flag was in 1989-90.

“It’s just huge for the club,” Johnson said.

“I’ve played cricket in some form for 20 years with Simon (Johnson), Luke (Gannon) and Macka (Corey McDonald). We haven’t won one in 22 years. It’s just huge.”

To appreciate Johnson’s longevity in the game, he has only missed six matches in 22 years with injury, including four to a hamstring injury in the 2009-10 season.

But he has been injury-free this season and can’t wait for a tilt at a long-awaited premiership.

After years of frustrating bowlers across the competition, Johnson isn’t planning on making it easier for the leather flingers.

If West won, would he retire?

“I wouldn’t have thought so … you just never know. The body has managed to stay in one piece this year.”

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