MELBOURNE: Australia’s cricketers will play their first ever Test match against Afghanistan in Hobart later this year ahead of hosting the Ashes against England, officials announced on Wednesday.

“We are also incredibly excited to welcome Afghanistan to our shores for a historic first Test match against Australia,” said Cricket Australia’s interim chief executive officer Nick Hockley.

The five-day match will be played at Hobart’s Bellerive Oval from Nov 27, with Australia then facing England at Brisbane’s Gabba ground in the first Test of the five-match Ashes series beginning Dec 8.

“The story of the Afghanistan cricket team is one of the most uplifting in international sport, and their record of three wins from their first six Tests prove they truly belong at this level,” added Hockley.

Afghanistan were granted Test status in 2018 with Australia originally planning to face them for the first time in the longest form of the game last year, but that match — in Perth — had to be scrapped as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the global cricket calendar.

Earlier Cricket Australia said they were hopeful England’s band of vociferous travelling fans — famously known as the Barmy Army — would be allowed to travel for the Ashes series, which concludes at Perth in January, but that depended on government Covid restrictions over arrivals and quarantine.

“In a perfect world, we would welcome the Barmy Army back to these shores for a summer of singing and sportsmanship. Of course, we will be guided by the Australian government on all things related to international travel,” said Cricket Australia.

They announced an Ashes series that includes a day-night second Test in Adelaide and the traditional Boxing Day match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground as the third Test.

Sydney, however, will be the venue for the fourth Test, rather than the series finale as has been customary.

Australia’s Test captain Tim Paine said a lack of long-format cricket ahead of the Ashes was not a concern for his team.

“That’s part-and-parcel for us, you’ve got to be adaptable,” Paine said, indicating that Australia would aim to field a full-strength team against Afghanistan.

“From my point of view, a preparation point of view, it’s going to be a really important Test match to set us up for the Ashes,” he said.

The Afghans have had three wins and three losses in its six test matches since becoming a full member of the International Cricket Council in 2018.

The Test series will come after the ICC’s Twenty20 World Cup, which is scheduled to be played in India in October and November but is likely to be shifted to the United Arab Emirates because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Australia’s international borders have remained closed to non-essential travel during the pandemic, and a sluggish vaccine rollout has seen the government push plans to reopen into next year.

Non-essential travel to Australia from the UK is not currently permitted.

CA said it had built quarantine periods for touring squads into the schedule but it is unlikely at this stage that England fans will be able to travel to support their team as they look to win back the Ashes.

“We’re all hoping for a summer of full crowds and an Ashes atmosphere were all accustomed to,” Englishman Hockley said.

In a change from recent Ashes series in Australia, the fifth and final Test will take place at the 60,000-seater Perth Stadium from Jan 14 to 18.

Australia will also play three One-day Internationals and a Twenty20 International against New Zealand in late January and early February followed by five T20 Internationals against Sri Lanka to round out the 2020-21 home season.

The women’s Ashes will open with the Test match in Canberra from Jan 27 to 30, followed by three T20 Internationals and three One-day Internationals in February. The world champions Southern Stars will also host India in a one-day series with dates yet to be confirmed.

Australia men’s home international fixtures

Nov 27-Dec 1: One-off Test vs Afghanistan (Hobart).

Dec 8-12: First Test vs England (Brisbane).

Dec 16-20: Second Test vs England (Adelaide, D/N).

Dec 26-30: Third Test vs England (Melbourne).

Jan 5-9: Fourth Test vs England (Sydney).

Jan 14-18: Fifth Test vs England (Perth).

Jan 30: First ODI vs New Zealand (Perth).

Feb 2: Second ODI vs New Zealand (Hobart).

Feb 5: Third ODI vs New Zealand (Sydney).

Feb 8: One-off T20 International vs New Zealand (Canberra).

Feb 11: First T20 International vs Sri Lanka (Sydney).

Feb 13: Second T20 International vs Sri Lanka (Brisbane)

Feb 15: Third T20 International vs Sri Lanka (Gold Coast)

Feb 18: Fourth T20 International vs Sri Lanka (Adelaide)

Feb 20 Fifth T20 International vs Sri Lanka (Melbourne)

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2021

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