Richard Johnson has revealed the reasoning behind ”the hardest decision of my life so far” – leaving Warwickshire to join First Division rivals Derbyshire.
Johnson, a product of the Bears’ youth system, has spent recent years battling to dislodge Tim Ambrose as first-choice wicketkeeper at Edgbaston.
At times he was unlucky not to get a sustained run in the side, notably at the start of 2011 after Johnson did well in the first team towards the end of 2010.
But with Ambrose now back to his best and poised to sign a new two-year contract, the way to regular first-team cricket is blocked as emphatically as ever for his deputy.
So when Johnson reached the end of contract in September and newly-promoted Derbyshire offered him a three-year deal, this time, head had to rule heart.
“It was certainly the hardest decision of my life so far,” he said.
“Being a Warwickshire lad and with the Bears since age 11, the club is in my blood.
“My initial choice was not to leave and give it everything I possibly could but I did that and there comes a point where you have to put what is right for your career first.
“I know it is the right thing to do. Being second-choice keeper at any club is difficult but being behind Tim is as hard as anything.
‘‘He might have had a couple of off seasons but it was only a matter of time before he came good again because he’s that good a player.
“Being behind him is tough. I totally understand why he is first choice because he churns out runs and is such a valuable member of the team although, being honest, I feel at times I was a little unlucky.
‘‘There were several periods when I was scoring big runs in the second team and felt I deserved a chance.
“In 2010 I came in when we had to win the last three games. We won them and I played some useful knocks and also a lot of CB40 games and did well. The following winter I felt I was in the mix and thought things might take off for me the following season but it wasn’t to be. That’s professional sport.
“In cricket I think you need a run of games, especially as a young player. Very few young players dominate consistently straight away. You need a decent run at it and I never got that. At the same time, I understand why Amby got the nod. It wasn’t that long ago he was scoring heavily for England. I can see both sides.”
So Johnson leaves Warwickshire with just 13 first-class games, two of which were for Derbyshire on loan last summer, under his belt. His loyalty to the Bears has kept his senior career in neutral but, aged 24, he still has loads of time to move it forward.
And with Derbyshire newly-promoted and resurgent on and off the field, he is confident he is now in the right place.
“People say maybe I should have left a couple of years ago but deep down you know when the time is right,” he said.
“And this is the time. There are exciting times ahead at Derby.
“I have been so impressed with the whole set-up right back from the moment I started my loan spell – with the chairman, the chief exceutive, Karl Krikken – it’s all geared towards the cricket. Intentions are good there and I really believe they are going in the right direction.
“I’ve got to earn my place behind the stumps but I have been told there could be a place as a specialist batsman if I play well enough. That was a massive factor.
‘‘Wicket-keeping is what I want to do because I love it but that gives me that extra chance.”
Johnson certainly has much senior cricket ahead of him. For now, away from the county of his roots but, who knows, a return to Edgbaston could lie somewhere in the future. Ambrose won’t be around forever!
“I’d never rule it out,” he said. “Who knows what the future holds but right now I’m just looking forward to being a Derbyshire player and giving everything I have got for them and making sure they are glad they signed me.”