Cricket Australia remains determined to see out the remainder of the Test summer as per its initial schedule, and is working with the Queensland government to secure the necessary exemptions for players to travel from Sydney to Brisbane for the final Test.
CA chief executive Nick Hockley on Thursday said it was “all systems go” for Sydney to host the third match of the series with India, before the fourth Test takes place at the Gabba in Brisbane.
But contingency plans are in place should the coronavirus situation in NSW change and the Sydney Cricket Ground is unable to host the match starting on 7 January. The Melbourne Cricket Ground is CA’s preferred back-up choice to host what would be a second consecutive Test there.
Both the new year’s Test at the SCG and the series finale in Brisbane, which starts on 15 January, were thrown into doubt following the Covid-19 outbreak on Sydney’s northern beaches as the border restrictions that followed forced CA to consider its options.
But after its board met on Thursday, CA reiterated its commitment to stick with the original plan.
“We are currently planning all systems go for the new year’s Test to take place in Sydney as scheduled and then moving on to Brisbane and the Gabba for the fourth Test,” Hockley said.
“At this stage we’re extremely confident about playing the Sydney Test as scheduled in Sydney and then moving on to Brisbane. We’ll continue to monitor the situation.”
Hockley said talks so far with the Queensland government had been constructive and positive, and a final decision on the schedule would be made at some point during the Boxing Day Test, which starts on Saturday with Australia leading India 1-0.
“We have always maintained that scheduling a full summer of cricket during a global pandemic would require agility, problem-solving and teamwork like never before,” Hockley said. “We continue to place the safety and wellbeing of everyone involved as our number one priority.
“The record testing numbers and the drop in new community transmissions in NSW have provided cause for optimism, however if the situation in Sydney deteriorates, we have strong contingency plans in place.”
Both Australia and India are in bio-secure hubs in Victoria as they prepare for the second Test and Hockley pointed to CA’s proven coronavirus protocols as evidence the matches could be completed as originally planned.
“CA has well-established biosecurity protocols in place and through safe completion of the season so far – which has included the women’s internationals in Brisbane, Marsh Sheffield Shield in Adelaide, WBBL in Sydney and the men’s ODIs and T20s in Sydney and Canberra – has developed a strong track record of safe and responsible return to sport.”
Queensland’s border with NSW was this week closed until 8 January, but earlier on Thursday the state’s chief health officer, Jeanette Young, indicated there could be a degree of flexibility to that arrangement if strict biosecurity rules were adhered to, as has largely been the case in other professional leagues, such as the NRL and AFL, played in Queensland this year.
It comes after Sydney reportedly made a last-ditch bid to host back-to-back Tests and strip Brisbane of the fourth match of the series. The SCG Trust chairman, Tony Shepherd, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the influential organisation would be “very, very disappointed” if it lost the match. He added that the famous old ground was ready and able to host another Test if necessary.
But Hockley said the prospect of consecutive Tests at the SCG was highly unlikely. “There’s a relatively short gap between the third and fourth Tests so from a pitch perspective it’s highly, highly problematic,” he said.
There is a sense that Cricket Australia is indebted to NSW after the state came to the rescue earlier in the year by accomodating both Australian and Indian players returning from the Indian Premier League and allowing them to train while in quarantine. Queensland had refused a similar request.
The welcome mat rolled out by NSW allowed six limited-over internationals to go ahead in Sydney and Canberra.
“Sydney saved the day, the NSW government supported it,” Shepherd said. “NSW is the cricket centre of Australia in terms of participation, players at the elite end and at community level. We have the biggest Indian diaspora in Australia.”
Before the emergence of the northern beaches cluster, the SCG was gearing up for a full-capacity crowd, but Hockley said the issue of numbers allowed in the stadium was something being discussed with the NSW government.
“We’re watching other sports and monitoring,” he said. “We’ll make an announcement on that in due course.”