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Johns 'farce' stirs up a storm

Critics of Andrew Johns's cameo for NSW were urged to lighten up yesterday after the rugby league star found himself at the centre of a storm over Twenty20's credibility.

Johns's unusual appearance for the Blues in their loss to South Australia in Newcastle on Sunday sparked controversy when former NSW captain Geoff Lawson branded the finish of the game "a farce".

Johns came in to bat last with NSW needing 13 runs off the last over but the celebrity novice didn't face a ball as Blues skipper Simon Katich turned down runs to keep him off strike.

With Australia playing a Twenty20 international tonight against England in Sydney, the Johns experiment divided opinion on talkback radio.

But Cricket NSW boss David Gilbert defended the promotion, saying a record Newcastle crowd justified the stunt.

"At times in sport we take ourselves so dreadfully seriously. We forget that we're in the entertainment business ... 10,500 people in a regional venue can't be wrong," Gilbert said.

"The biggest ever crowd at that venue says it all."

Gilbert found support from a band of former Australia greats and current star Andrew Symonds yesterday but Lawson remained steadfast in his disapproval.

"I would like to see some evidence Johns brought anyone through the gate. The people I spoke to said they were mostly there to see the cricket," Lawson said.

"We saw 27,000 people turn up at the Gabba last week with no gimmicks. Without question, everyone said they were disappointed with what happened at the end."

Johns was reluctant to buy into the debate yesterday, saying his aim was to help raise money for a charity.

"I've never professed to being a Shane Warne or a Ricky Ponting," he said.

"It's just a bit of fun. I think both teams didn't mind me playing."

South Australia captain Darren Lehmann concurred and said the Redbacks had even run an eye over AFL players in Adelaide.

"I think it's actually OK," Lehmann said. "You would have to make sure they get involved in the game. But the people enjoyed it. It's a great concept. Hats off to NSW."

Former Australia captain Mark Taylor described the game as "fantastic", while Doug Walters also backed the concept.

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