The South Australia (SA) government has imposed the harshest lockdown conditions seen across the country this year in an effort to contain a developing Covid-19 outbreak situation as well as preserve a narrowing window for the pink-ball Adelaide Oval Test against India scheduled from December 17.
On Wednesday, Cricket Australia continued to be optimistic that the first Test of the much-anticipated series between Australia and India would remain in Adelaide, a little more than two weeks after SA’s health authorities are hoping they would be able to ease the restrictions. While only two new Covid-19 cases emerged on Wednesday, a six-day “pause” would limit all households to only one visit a day to buy essential household items. Even takeaway food and drinks have been banned for this period before a further eight days of somewhat relaxed conditions.
These decisions were reached only a day after CA successfully moved the Adelaide Strikers Big Bash League club and numerous other players out of SA, while also relocating players from Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania, to New South Wales. In their wake, they have left a state about to enter six days of minimal activity, even extending to prohibitions on exercise outside the home.
“I think you’ve got the wicket perfect at Adelaide for a pink-ball Test. I’ve never played one in Melbourne, but a few grounds around Australia I think are just too abrasive or too hard, such as the Gabba or Perth. I think those wickets are too hard for a pink ball, it goes quite soft after a certain amount of time.”
“It’s too early to tell, but this is really the one chance we’ve got of going to having a normal Christmas. The virus doesn’t understand our public holidays and it doesn’t understand we have Christmas coming up,” SA’s chief health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said. “For definitely these 14 days I do not want to be responsible for taking this virus to other states. I’d be asking SA to stay put, I’d like to see very limited movement.”
The state’s premier, Steven Marshall, added: “You don’t get a second chance to stop a second wave, so we’re throwing absolutely everything at this. We want to have six days [of] this circuit breaker so we don’t have much more pain down the track. We know the consequence of getting this wrong.”
CA is yet to have anything more than informal discussions with other potential venues for the first Test against India, which include the MCG in Melbourne and Canberra’s Manuka Oval. However, Stuart Fox, the Melbourne Cricket Club chief executive, expressed hope that Adelaide would still be able to host the day-night Test.
“I would hate to see it moved – we lost the [AFL] Grand Final this year and it hurt us dearly. Hence I wouldn’t want to be seen to be poaching an event out of Adelaide,” Fox said on SEN Radio. “We’re capable and willing if required. The G’s available, we could host it, but I think it’d be a shame if Adelaide or Cricket Australia had to move their Test away.
“I’m not picking up the phone to CA. They know we’re available because we’re clear right up until Christmas. The pitches are in, the place is looking magnificent, bar a bit of dust and we’re ready to go. CA know we’re available and I’m sure if they needed a backup venue, the MCG is a possibility.”
After a year in which he has seen plenty of fixtures postponed, cancelled or relocated, Australia’s fast bowler Josh Hazlewood said that most members of the national squad have mentally adapted to this new and ever-changing reality.
“I think everyone’s used to it, I think it maybe troubled a few guys going back a few months. But now guys are just going week to week and things change daily if not weekly. People aren’t planning too far ahead, they’re just taking it on the run,” Hazlewood said. “CA have been fantastic getting messages through to us and our families and partners on what the summer would look like and things change all the time.
“We’ve played at all the different grounds before and in all different orders, so I don’t think that’d have any impact. It’s a pretty uncertain time, so we’re adapting pretty quickly to whatever is being thrown in front of us and I think all the guys are coping well with it.”
If the Adelaide Test had to be moved interstate, Hazlewood said that his personal preference would be for an opening Test at the Gabba. He also expressed doubt if the Kookaburra pink ball would stand up to conditions at the MCG – among other venues – that have not achieved Adelaide’s fine balance between a well-grassed pitch and a lush but fast outfield.
“I think you’ve got the wicket perfect at Adelaide for a pink-ball Test,” he said. “I’ve never played one in Melbourne, but a few grounds around Australia I think are just too abrasive or too hard, such as the Gabba or Perth. I think those wickets are too hard for a pink ball, it goes quite soft after a certain amount of time.
“I think Adelaide’s got a great coverage of grass and it looks after the ball a little bit better throughout the 80 overs. It holds its hardness and I just think [the curator, Damian Hough] he’s got it down pat, he’s had the most opportunity to work on those wickets having so many pink-ball games in Adelaide, and he’s got it down to a fine art. I think it could be red ball, Melbourne or Brisbane or somewhere, and then we head back to Adelaide later in the summer. But I think from all reports we’re still all good for Adelaide, but it can always change.”
Hazlewood also offered an insight into how the team would prepare for the Tests after a sextet of white-ball matches – three ODIs and T20Is each start India’s tour – while looking to some hefty bowling sessions, possibly more than one a day, in the lead-up to the opening match of the long-form series.
“Most summers we get the one Shield game at least to bowl the red ball and get those overs under our belt, but this year’s a little bit different,” he said. “We’re going to have to try to replicate that at training in the lead-up. We’ve got six white-ball games first – three one-dayers in a week is not far off a Test match, you’re bowling 30 overs at good intensity and fielding for 150 potentially.
“So we’re not far off there, then a lighter week with the T20Is and we’ll head to Adelaide and really try and replicate a day or day and a half through centre wickets, bowling longer spells. Then coming back in the afternoon and bowling if that’s an option. So I think we’ll be fine.”