Sydney planning to host Boxing Day Test against India

Updated 10 Aug 2020

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Australia's David Warner (R) is watched by India's Mahendra Singh Dhoni as he plays a shot during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between India and Australia at The Oval in London on June 9, 2019. — AFP/File
Australia's David Warner (R) is watched by India's Mahendra Singh Dhoni as he plays a shot during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between India and Australia at The Oval in London on June 9, 2019. — AFP/File

SYDNEY: Sydney made a pitch on Saturday to host the money-spinning Boxing Day Test against India as its traditional home Melbourne battles a surge in novel coronavirus (Covid-19) cases.

The fate of the marquee fixture is uncertain with no live sport currently in Melbourne as it struggles with hundreds of new daily infections, in contrast to Sydney which continues to see only a handful of cases.

Victoria — Australia’s second-most populous state — is at the centre of a second wave of infections in the country, accounting for more than two-thirds of the national tally of nearly 21,000 cases.

The southeastern state, of which Melbourne is the capital, has recorded 181 deaths, almost 70 per cent of the Australia’s fatalities from the pandemic.

Reports have suggested Adelaide is the frontrunner to host the Dec 26-30 clash if Melbourne is not able to, but Sydney Cricket Ground Trust chairman Tony Shepherd said they too were keen.

“We’d be very happy to host it because it’s a major event and it’s good for Sydney, and people like coming to Sydney, and we have the capacity to host it if that’s what Cricket Australia want to do,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

If that occurred, it would mean a double-header in the city with the usual Sydney Test ordinarily played after Melbourne.

Shepherd said the large Indian diaspora in Sydney would relish the extra opportunity to see their national team live.

“They would love both events, a double-header would be fabulous,” he said.

Other possibilities suggested include Adelaide and Perth, which have largely escaped the Covid-19 and have hotels adjacent to their grounds, acting as hubs and hosting multiple Tests.

Cricket Australia’s interim chief executive Nick Hockley said Melbo­urne retaining the Test depended on whether fans were allowed.

“It comes down to if we can get a crowd at the MCG, we’ll play at the MCG,” he told reporters on Saturday. “We are full steam ahead with the planning [for Boxing Day at the MCG] in the anticipation that we’ll be back to some level of normalcy by that point in time.

“As long as circumstances allow, we will be doing everything we can to play the Boxing Day Test at the MCG. At the moment we are planning to have things go ahead.”

Currently, four Tests against India are pencilled in for Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney from early December, with Perth hosting Afghanistan.

The iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground has hosted a Test match from Dec 26-Dec 30 in all but one year since 1980 and the game has become a staple on the Australian sporting calendar.

The lucrative India series is seen as critical for the financial health of Cricket Australia, which has been hit hard by the pandemic with its hosting of the Twenty20 World Cup this year postponed until 2022.

Hockley said the new wave of infections only showed that Cricket Australia had to be ‘agile and flexible’ with their plans for not just the four-Test, three One-day International series tour by India but the entire domestic and international schedule.

“As we have seen with the winter codes, we need to be agile and flexible all the way through,” Hockley said. “As, when and if things change, we are doing everything we can that we make sure we have all the backup arrangements and can get cricket played.”

On Friday, New South Wales state Deputy Premier John Barilaro said he had written to sports stakeholders and officials in Victoria, whose capital is Melbourne, offering Sydney as host for major events as a backup.

That could include the Australian Open tennis Grand Slam in January.

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2020