| England’s Richard Johnson in action on Day II of the second Test at Riverside on Friday. The debutant later destroyed the Zimbabwe innings, taking six for 33. (Reuters)
Chester-le-Street: England debutant Richard Johnson flirted with the record books on Friday to leave Zimbabwe heading towards their second innings defeat of the two-Test series.
The 28-year-old Johnson took six for 33, including wickets with his third and fourth balls, to skittle out the touring side for 94 and enforce the follow-on at the new Riverside venue.
Zimbabwe, themselves flirting with their lowest Test total, closed the second day on 41 for one, still 281 runs in the red.
One more wicket and Johnson would have surpassed Dominic Cork’s seven for 43 on debut against the West Indies in 1995.
While he deserved commendation, the Zimbabweans, heading for their ninth successive loss and looking supermodel-thin on resources after the retirement of Andy Flower, were worthy of their share of condemnation on a blameless surface.
Johnson confirmed as much when he said: “Was I surprised to take six wickets' Yes, a little bit. I normally like to swing it away but it didn’t swing or jag about much, although it did enough. After the first over Nasser (Hussain) told me to concentrate on bowling straight.”
England had resumed on 298 for five and were dismissed shortly after lunch for 416.
The debacle then began.
Johnson, who would have had a hatful of England caps but for year upon year of injuries, bowled at a lively pace, seaming the ball off the deck and angling it in. He was unerringly accurate.
Zimbabwe proved unerringly inaccurate in putting bat to ball. Seven of their batsmen were to depart leg-before, a Test innings record.
Coach Geoff Marsh commented: “We put the pad where the bat should have been. It was a good wicket.”
Mark Vermeulen went third ball — by the end of the day he was boasting a four-ball pair for the match — and Stuart Carlisle was out for a golden duck, both shuffling half-forward and falling leg-before.
James Anderson, who also took five wickets on his debut in the first Test at Lord’s, chipped in with the scalps of Dion Ebrahim and Grant Flower to make it 18 for four, already exposing Zimbabwe’s all rounders, before Johnson got among the wickets again.
Sean Ervine edged a leg-cutter behind and Travis Friend, the fourth duck of the innings, missed an in-drifter. When Streak declined to play a stroke at Johnson it was 35 for seven at tea and Zimbabwe’s all-time low of 63, against the West Indies in 1999-2000, looked under threat.
Somerset bowler Johnson, who appeared in the England squad way back in 1995 and who was named as 12th man in the 2001 Ashes series before touring India in the same year, was to claim one more wicket.
Wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu, all energy and obduracy but yet to convince as a No. 5, pulled him for successive fours but was dismissed for 31 next ball — leg-before, inevitably — before Steve Harmison wrapped up the innings with his second wicket.
Earlier England had been dismissed for 416 after a pedestrian first hour to the day. Alec Stewart made 68, Anthony McGrath added an 81 to his Lord’s debut innings of 69 — the pair put on 149 for the sixth wicket — and the tireless Heath Streak took four wickets.
On Thursday, Stewart crossed David Gower’s Test tally of 8231 runs and moved into second place in England’s list of Test run-scorers. It also put him in eighth place on the all-time list of Test run-scorers.