Domestic Twenty20 competition December 28, 2006

Redbacks hope for fresh start

Brydon Coverdale

Mark Cleary tries to launch a ball across the Yarra River © Getty Images

Even on a cold Melbourne morning with all eyes on the MCG Test, the South Australia allrounder Mark Cleary could not avoid some good-natured sledging about the Redbacks' woeful start to the season. Cleary won the "Biggest Basher" competition that launched the expanded domestic Twenty20 program, in which a player from each state tried to hit balls across the Yarra River.

"It must be strange to win something," said the New South Wales representative Ed Cowan, as Cleary accepted his prize - a yellow plastic bat that might be South Australia's only trophy for the year. The Redbacks are languishing on the bottom of the Pura Cup and Ford Ranger Cup tables and questions have been asked by their own hierarchy about team management.

Cleary tried to push the official line when asked about their poor form but his colleagues from other states were keen to rub it in. "We've got a good side," was all Cleary managed to tell the media before Tasmania's Travis Birt piped up with "No you don't!"

The friendly banter was typical of the jovial feel at the launch. But Cricket Australia will be keen for the states to take the Twenty20 format seriously, as it hopes to draw bigger crowds with attendances at Pura Cup and Ford Ranger Cup matches still disappointing.

The players claimed they would be out there to win, but perhaps how much the states will focus on Twenty20 could be gleaned from the players enlisted to launch it: Nick Kruger, Aiden Blizzard, Peter Worthington, Cleary, Cowan and Birt are not exactly superstars. Blizzard found himself answering questions from passing Melburnians about when matches were on and who would be playing.

But at least one team will be desperate to perform well. Cleary was confident that a string of Twenty20 wins could put South Australia back on the path to success in their four-day ventures. The next fortnight will tell if his optimism was justified or if indeed South Australia continues to be all at sea, like the eventual fate of the 30 yellow plastic balls that floated aimlessly down the Yarra.