21 Dec

The head of the new stadiums super agency that runs the SCG, Tony Shepherd,  admits the financial toll of losing the Sydney Test to a virus outbreak would be "significant", but remains hopeful it won't come to that - even as border closures cast it into greater doubt. 

While the status of the third Test in Sydney has been under a cloud since the emergence of a new coronavirus cluster on the northern beaches last week, the match's place on the calendar has been further jeopardised with three states including Queensland classifying the city as a COVID-19 hotspot. 

Cricket Australia's interim chief executive, Nick Hockley, said on Sunday the sport had time on its side and was still planning for the third Test in Sydney from January 7-11, but border closures to the Greater Sydney region have thrown a major spanner in the works. 

The Queensland government on Sunday (20 December) followed Victoria and South Australia in closing the state to travellers from Sydney. With the fourth Test between Australia and India set down for Brisbane from January 15-19, border crossings for players and broadcast staff and commentators are a central consideration. 

The NSW government and SCG officials came to the game's aid last month when the Queensland government rejected Cricket Australia's proposal for Indian and Australian players to train while quarantining in Brisbane after returning from overseas. 

They instead served their fortnight's isolation in western Sydney, and four of the six white-ball matches between Australia and India were played at the SCG, with the other two held in Canberra. CA's loyalty to Sydney and the influence of key figures such as NSW Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres and Shepherd will, however, only count for so much if the ability for the sport is complete the series is jeopardised. 

Switching the SCG and Gabba Tests around is an alternative that has been discussed by CA's coronavirus working group, which met on Sunday, given that would alleviate the problem of the cricket roadshow travelling from Sydney to Brisbane. But broadcasters say playing the next two Tests in Melbourne and then heading to the Gabba for the fourth is increasingly likely. 

"It's our biggest event in the year. It would be hard in this situation to work out what the cost would be because we're in a new paradigm but it would be significant," said Shepherd, the chair of Venues NSW, which controls the SCG. Shepherd said the SCG could be "very flexible" when it came to the schedule if need be. "But hopefully it won't come to that and we can stick to the program," he said. "As things stand now, the Test is being held in Sydney. That's the government's advice, that's Cricket Australia's advice. We've got 2 1/2 weeks to go we don't want to start [jumping] at shadows. We'll see what happens." Shepherd said tickets for the Sydney Test, which had been permitted to have capacity crowds, were "selling strongly". 

The McGrath Foundation, which has held its major fundraising campaign on the third day of the Sydney Test for more than a decade, is also planning as if the "Pink Test" is still proceeding at the SCG. Its founder, Glenn McGrath, won't be in Sydney for the day in any case as he is commentating the series from a studio in India but the fast bowling great was to make appearances by video link. Limitations on spectator numbers would, however, be a setback for the charity's efforts to fund breast care nurses. 

Hockley said "our preference remains to play the match at the Sydney Cricket Ground". 

John Stephenson 


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