Rugby legend broadens horizons June 28, 2006

Andrew Johns to play Twenty20 for NSW

Cricinfo staff

Andrew Johns: Tait and Gillespie might just make him wish for a crunching tackle or two © Getty Images

Rugby league legend Andrew Johns is to represent New South Wales in at least two Twenty20 matches next summer. Johns, who currently plays for the Newcastle Knights, has been an occasional lower grade cricketer in recent years with Newcastle's Merewether club and an enthusiastic cricket-watcher.

Johns' selection was approved at a recent New South Wales Cricket Board meeting with the full support of senior players and Trevor Bayliss, the coach. He will play against South Australia at Newcastle's No.1 Sports Ground on January 7, and again three days later against Tasmania at Telstra Stadium.

The move to play Johns was first discussed with his management, The Fordham Company, two months ago. "In those discussions, John Fordham pointed out that the great Reg Gasnier represented a NSW XI, captained by Richie Benaud, in a match against Fiji at the SCG back in 1960, so in many ways a precedent had been established," said Dave Gilbert, Cricket NSW's chief executive. "Also in the line-up were fellow Test players Norm O'Neill, Jim Burke, Keith Miller, Alan Davidson and Neil Harvey".

Gilbert said Twenty20 cricket was an introductory vehicle to draw a new wave of spectators to the game. "Being in its infancy, it's important for us to keep it in that context," he said. "Having a figure with the immense popularity of Andrew Johns represent his state in these matches will trigger unprecedented interest.

"When Trevor Bayliss and I sat down with 'Joey' and his management to discuss this history-making idea it was abundantly clear to us that it excited him. We are delighted he's agreed to pad up for the SpeedBlitz Blues and to have a world-class sportsman linking up with our players is an added bonus".

Johns said that he had watched several Twenty20 matches in England last year. "From an entertainment angle, it was terrific. On one occasion, there were three back-to-back matches played at the one venue. I was so impressed I called the Nine Network's sports boss Steve Crawley from England to tell him how rapt I was."

He planned to have a few matches with Merewether to warm up for his debut "if their selectors can find a spot for me in the fourths or fifths". "Trevor Bayliss has also invited me to attend a few practice sessions," said Johns. "Believe me, I'll need all the help I can get. The prospect of batting against Shaun Tait, who bowls as fast as Brett Lee, and Jason Gillespie in the first match is already giving me nightmares!"