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Fans flock to the Joey Johns cricket show
When Andrew 'Joey' Johns walks out to bat for New South Wales in today's cricket match in Newcastle, the organisers will have pulled off a circus stunt which the famed Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey would have been proud of.
The Newcastle Knights half back has been training hard with the bat in recent months in preparation for today's Twenty20 Big Bash contest between the NSW Blues and South Australia at the Newcastle Number One Sportsground. A capacity crowd of about 8,000 is expected.
NSW have enlisted the 32-year-old Johns to play in two matches, the second encounter being played in Sydney on Wednesday.
The move is without doubt a publicity stunt, and Cricket NSW chief executive David Gilbert acknowledged as much in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald last June.
"Twenty20 is about promoting the game and this is a promotion." Gilbert said.
"The states see Twenty20 as an opportunity to be as left field as possible. Nobody loses sleep if they win or lose,"
Johns admits that he won't be much use.
"I can't bowl real well, I can't bat and I can't field," he said.
"It's a big class rise but fingers crossed, I don't get a bat and just get a bit of a field."
In fairness to Johns, there have been some players who have successfully made the transition from rugby league to cricket. Perhaps the most notable was Ray Lindwall who, in 1941, was described by Rugby League News as a 'fine footballer and a magnificent cricketer'. A fullback for St George, Lindwall played in the 1942 and 1946 grand finals before going onto cricket greatness as a fast bowler in 'Bradman's Invincibles' (1948 ). Lindwall eventually captained Australia following Bradman's retirement.
But Andrews Johns is no Ray Lindwall.
Despite this, some supporters will talk with a quiet confidence of Johns' cricket abilities and that he played a bit in his younger days. But the facts show that the Newcastle league legend never rose above the lower grades for the Merewether cricket club.
There's no doubting that Johns has an outstanding record in his chosen field of rugby league. With 23 State of Origin matches for NSW and 21 matches for Australia, Joey's record speaks for itself.
How Johns will perform today remains to be seen. Arguably the world's greatest rugby league player of this generation, Johns only has to show up and be seen for fans to get their money's worth. If he makes even the smallest contribution to NSW's match plan, assuming they have one, then it will be greeted with huge applause from the Newcastle faithful.
"He's certainly not the worst player I've seen," former Australian skipper Mark Taylor told the ABC last month.
"Actually, he's not dissimilar to McGrath. He's very strong around that off stump. The one that angles in across the legs he likes to play across that ball a bit. So maybe he'll be like McGrath and develop over time."
In what may be a prophetic comparison, Glenn McGrath was never able to match his bowling record with the bat in hand. A champion in his chosen field of taking wickets, McGrath was given out for a duck in the Melbourne Test match following Taylor's comments.
Suffice to say, Andrew Johns' excursion onto the cricket pitch is more about entertainment. With a big crowd expected and a mass of publicity coming in for this abridged version of cricket, today's fun-filled adventure at Newcastle Sports Ground should be a success.
Cricket live scores for Twenty20 Big Bash NSW v SA - click here
SA West End Redbacks 9/150
NSW SpeedBlitz Blues 9/142
South Australia won by 8 runs.
Bowling: Johns bowled one over, conceding 9 runs. Batting: Johns faced one ball in NSW's 19th over, scoring 0.