Australia v India: 'Will do everything we can' to play Boxing Day Test at MCG, says CA CEO
Cricket Australia (CA) is willing to wait until much later into the year to make a decision on whether the Boxing Day Test against India will be staged at the MCG, and are currently "full steam ahead" with plans for the game to be in its traditional Melbourne home.
The city is in a Stage 4 lockdown following a second wave of Covid-19 cases with tight restrictions set to be in place until mid-September at the earliest. Unlike some other major cities around Australia, Melbourne has not been able to host any crowds at sports events since the original pandemic restrictions took hold in March.
Currently Perth Stadium, which missed out on getting an India Test in the original schedule, is able to hold 25,000 spectators for AFL matches while smaller crowds of up to 10,000 are permitted in Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide although there is a close watch being maintained on the Covid-19 situation in New South Wales.
Under the current schedule, India are due to play Tests in Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney from early December to early January.
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Nick Hockley, the interim CA CEO, said there are contingency plans being worked out on for all aspects of the Australian summer but every effort will be made to enable the Melbourne game to go ahead.
"In terms of Boxing Day, it's one of the most iconic events on the Australian sporting calendar. Certainly at this stage we are planning full steam ahead," he said. "As long as circumstances allow, we will be doing everything we can to play the Test at the MCG.
"It comes down to if we can get a crowd at the MCG, we'll play at the MCG. There's a long way to run, over four and a half months; [I] think it's very premature to be talking about this. All the restrictions that are ongoing - we are just hopeful that they take very quick effect and we get back on top of the situation and people can get out and about, we can get back to crowds and get back to live events.
"We are having to remain agile, certainly we're looking at contingency planning across the entire summer. As things change we're doing everything we can and we have all the back-up arrangements to make sure we get cricket played. We are a number of months off having to make any change to the published schedule in respect to Boxing Day."
The India series remains the vital part of the summer for CA, but is just one of many sets of fixtures they are trying to stage. Under normal circumstances, the domestic season would be starting in around six weeks but there are currently no confirmed schedules for the Sheffield Shield, Marsh Cup or the Women's National Cricket League (WNCL). New Zealand's women team are due to be the first international visitors of the season from late September for T20Is and ODIs.
"There's a huge amount of work going on in the background at the moment. It is very complicated," Hockley said. "If you think about the summer of cricket [and] all the different formats, there's a huge amount of complexity in all of that because each of those competitions are reliant on inter-state travel. The absolute starting point is that we get as much of the schedule away as possible and that's what we are working towards."
The more immediate schedule that needs final approval is the men's limited-overs tour to England with T20Is and ODIs set to be played in bio-secure grounds in September. The tour is expected to proceed but there are a few final elements that require government sign-off given Australia currently has closed international borders and heavy restrictions on inter-state movement.
"There is a bit more work to be done around travel exemptions, but we're committed to making that tour happen," Hockley said. "We'll be making some announcements on that in the next couple of weeks and confirming that tour as soon as we're able to."