'Hit-and-giggle' format expanded

The light-hearted nature of Twenty20 cricket was on display in Melbourne today as state players tried to smash balls across the Yarra River to launch the expanded domestic program. It was a spectacular failure - all six hitters failed to clear the water - but Cricket Australia hopes the 13 matches beginning on Monday are more of a success.

Each state will play two home and two away games - twice as many as last year - before the final on January 13. Newcastle and Toowoomba will host matches and New South Wales will try to draw big crowds by including the rugby league star Andrew Johns in their team.

"We saw him bat in the nets the other day," the New South Wales opener Ed Cowan said. "It is an interesting prospect to see what Shaun Tait serves up for him because Bracks [Nathan Bracken] was bowling off about two or three steps and he was squealing when he was copping it in the thigh-pad."

Such stunts will do nothing to appease the Twenty20 detractors but the players insist they will take the contest seriously. South Australia's Mark Cleary said his team, which has made a miserable start to 2006-07, would be looking to regain form in the shorter version. "It's hit and giggle," he said. "A win's a win, so if we come out and get a couple of wins it might set us up for some momentum going into the Pura Cup and the Ford Ranger Cup."

Travis Birt, the Tasmania batsman, said it was unfair to label Twenty20 as simply an excuse to slog. "If you look at the really good players they play natural cricket strokes and seem to do well," Birt said. "Obviously the Pura Cup is what everyone wants to win, or the Ford Ranger Cup, but it's a trophy that's still out there so teams really want to win it."

Twenty20 rules include two runs for no-balls with a free hit from the next delivery, a maximum of 90 seconds for a new batsman to take guard after a wicket, and penalties for teams that fail to bowl their 20 overs in their allotted 80 minutes. The first round of matches on January 1 has Queensland hosting Tasmania, Victoria travelling to South Australia and Western Australia playing at home to New South Wales.

Tasmania squad Michael Di Venuto, Tim Paine (wk), Dane Anderson, Travis Birt, George Bailey, Michael Dighton, Daniel Marsh (capt), Matthew Wade, Luke Butterworth, Xavier Doherty, Brendan Drew, Damien Wright.

New South Wales squad Ed Cowan, Phil Jaques, Simon Katich (capt), Brad Haddin (wk), Dominic Thornely, Daniel Christian, David Warner, Aaron O'Brien, Tim Lang, Nathan Hauritz, Nathan Bracken, Scott Coyte.

Victoria squad Michael Klinger, Jon Moss, Brad Hodge, Cameron White (capt), David Hussey, Rob Quiney, Aiden Blizzard, Andrew McDonald, Adam Crosthwaite (wk), Shane Harwood, Gerard Denton, Darren Pattinson.