Uncontracted in State cricket since 2020, following the expiration of a rookie list position, Johnson was hopeful of a return to the Redbacks setup, but planning for a third summer without an Adelaide Oval swipe pass is his pocket.

An early morning text message from SACA Talent Manager Shaun ‘Rowdy’ Williams changed that.

“I was working at the Oval and Rowdy sent me a message to come in for a chat. I don’t think he knew I was just downstairs. I wasn’t sure what it would be, and so I went upstairs, and the contract was pretty much there ready to go in front of me.

“I was so excited. It’s a bit of a relief to be honest. The last couple of years have been a little tough. So, I’m just thrilled to be back.”

Naturally understated, Johnson doesn’t immediately elaborate on just how tough the last few years have been. He doesn’t mention that he was unable to play the sport he loves for two and a half years. Or that at times there were doubts he would ever be able to run again, let alone deliver a cricket ball north of 140km/h.

Since 12 October 2017, Johnson has fought a physical and mental battle against injury and adversity that not only threatened his cricketing dream, but cast a shadow across the future.

“I was 20 when I made my debut at North Sydney Oval in a One Day game, and as I was chasing a ball, I felt my ankle click. I played the game out and it didn’t look too bad, but it was really painful.

“I flew back to Adelaide and got a scan to reveal a Talus stress fracture, something that the surgeon had only seen once in his career, and that was in a Rugby Union player. I had the rest of the season off and didn’t begin running again until the next preseason, but it was still no good, so I missed another year.”

Such is the relaxed nature of Johnson’s speech, it can be easy to miss that within the space of a single breath, he has missed two entire summers of cricket. Unable to make headway in his recovery, surgical intervention became necessary.

“At the back end of that year it still wasn’t healing, so they put some screws into it, and I managed to get myself up again. But towards the end of that season it was still too painful, so I had another scan, and we discovered that my body had rejected the screws.”

Heading into a third summer without his name on a scorecard and a contract expiration looming, Johnson was forced to confront much more than simply the pain on his left foot.

After so much time spent in rehab, he found it hard to differentiate between pain that should keep him sidelined and pain that could be played through. Having to face these demons in addition to the uncertainty around his future was something that Johnson, still in his early twenties, found extremely challenging.

Open conversations with coaching staff peppered that third summer of injury, and while he never would have imagined it at the time, Johnson now says that coming off the Redbacks list following the 2019/20 season was the best thing that could have happened to him.

“You don’t have an option then. You have to perform to get back on the list and I can only perform by playing. So even if I didn’t feel quite right, I needed to get out there. I learned so much about myself. I really thank SACA for that, I’m glad it has worked out the way it has.

“Looking back now, they were right. I had some really hard and honest conversations and went away and knew what I needed to do.”

Luke Butterworth, South Australia’s bowling coach, remembers it the same way.

“When you go off contract, there is only one way to get back on, and that’s performance. You can get a look at it through potential and being a 6-foot-4 left arm quick, but the only way to stay in the picture is performance.

“It was a blunt message from us. The time of potential and reputation is over. It’s all about performance. He had some horrific and plaguing injuries that impacted him and dented his confidence, but the last couple of years he has shown resilience and determination.

“It’s great to see Spencer back, he brings so much to the team. It’s great to see him get reward for all the hard work he has done. He’s done a lot of that by himself and it’s great to see him get this chance.”

Earned the hard way, Johnson’s second State contract is built on a foundation of consistent cricket, highlighted by wickets in all formats of Premier Cricket. In addition to playing a starring role in West Torrens’ One and Two Day title triumphs, Johnson’s powerful left arm featured heavily for South Australia’s Second XI as they compiled a strong campaign with a fresh and exciting line-up.

It couldn’t have begun better for Johnson, producing a week to savour during the opening round of the Second XI season when South Australia played host to their Western neighbours on Adelaide Oval Number Two.

The fixture was Johnson’s maiden outing in four-day cricket, and while he now possessed a renewed faith in the stability of his foot, it was not lost that this would be the longest and most exhaustive test of his young career.

South Australia dominated the game from the outset, and as morning light spread across Adelaide to welcome the fourth and final day, they needed ten wickets to win. Finally experiencing the familiar feel of cricket ball in hand, Johnson knew he would have a chance to stamp his authority on the contest when it truly mattered.

Following two and a half years working to get his body up for the challenge, the 2021/22 summer had immediately presented an opportunity for Johnson to bowl his state to victory.

And of course, as the main character in this story, Johnson would be the one called upon as the sun began to set, asked by his captain to find a way through the final Western Australian partnership.

“It was late on day four, and with two overs left in the game they were nine wickets down and the skipper threw me the ball.”

At this point, Johnson had bowled a total of 31 overs, or 186 max effort deliveries, across the game. One more wicket would secure victory for a team with no less than five debutants. Johnson had six balls, six chances to find that wicket.

He would only need one.

Thinking only of bowling as fast as he could, Johnson charged in and sent the bails flying on the first delivery, sparking celebrations that saw his teammates raise a sweat as they chased him into the outfield.

Remembering the moment with a smile, Johnson sums up the reaction well.

“I think we carried on a bit.”

Not only had Johnson returned to the field and played four consecutive days of tough cricket, he had contributed in the dying light of the contest. He had played through pain, exhaustion and the lingering past to earn his right to celebrate amongst his South Australian mates.

It was a much more subdued moment six months later as Johnson climbed the steps to the SACA High Performance office to find a contract waiting. A tangible reward for the countless hours spent working on his craft, both physically and mentally, the dotted line bearing his signature represents everything Johnson has been through. It is a second chance at fulfilling a childhood dream.

“I absolutely dreamed of representing South Australia as a kid. I remember coming to Adelaide Oval and watching Darren Lehmann and Dizzy with my brothers and my old man. It was a dream of mine to do that.  To get an opportunity to be on a list and be that close was almost surreal.”

That dream will come back to Johnson every time he walks into the Favell Dansie Indoor Centre at Adelaide Oval, a facility he began work on while just metres away paperwork was being drafted that would change his life.

For Johnson, who has a turf management business with his brother and is currently studying horticulture through TAFE, hard work away from the cricket pitch helps put everything in perspective. Thankful for his opportunity to work on the indoor centre, he found inspiration from those he laboured with.

“It makes you appreciate hard work and not take the opportunity we have for granted. When pre-season comes round and you’ve got the 2km time trial or a gym session, it doesn’t compare to what they do day in and day out. At the end of the day, I’m in a dream job and I can’t wait for pre-season.”

Working on the centre is another proud achievement in an ever-lengthening list for Johnson, but with a grin he acknowledges that it presents his teammates with a free hit when it comes to pre-season banter.

“I’ve already copped a few messages from the boys saying the turf is uneven or the spin wicket isn’t up to scratch. I reckon it’ll be alright for the quicks though.”