A mass airlift of Australian and BBL players and staff into Sydney looms large as Cricket Australia attempts to keep its summer plans afloat in the wake of the developing Covid-19 outbreak in South Australia.
After Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania closed their borders to SA on Monday, CA’s planners worked quickly to figure a way to get Australian white-ball, Test match and Australia A squads, plus the Adelaide Strikers BBL squad, into position to travel into New South Wales as early as Tuesday morning to enable forthcoming fixtures to go on smoothly.
While there is not yet any suggestion that the Adelaide Oval Test itself will move – ESPNcricinfo understands it is likely to remain in place even in the event of no crowds being permitted for the opening match of the marquee series between Australia and India – the likelihood of a spontaneous airlift is a reminder of a febrile environment that has taxed sporting administrators, players and coaches.
Tim Paine and Matthew Wade (Tasmania), Marnus Labuschagne, Joe Burns, Michael Neser and Mitchell Swepson (Queensland), Cameron Green (Western Australia) and Travis Head and Kane Richardson (South Australia) are among the players looking at an early arrival into Sydney once logistics of travel, including possible charter flights, and accommodation are ironed out. The Strikers are expected to move early to evade the danger of being barred from entering Tasmania for the first batch of BBL games in mid-December.
Sporting bodies have learned it is better to be safe than sorry in terms of travelling as soon as possible if there is any danger of Australia’s state borders tightening, a dance that the AFL and the NRL completed more successfully earlier this year than the A-League.
A Cricket Australia statement on Monday evening said: “Our biosecurity and operational teams are closely monitoring the situation and working to put in place the necessary plans to ensure players, coaches and staff are available for upcoming fixtures.
“CA has always maintained that it would need to be agile as border conditions change and we thank the players, coaches and staff involved for their flexibility and all parties for their support. We will continue to provide updates as the situation evolves and look forward to hosting a safe and successful summer across all formats.”
Australia’s Test captain Paine was among a host of players forced into self-isolating as state governments responded to the outbreak in Adelaide’s northern suburbs. Players and support staff from Tasmania, Western Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria all returned home from their Sheffield Shield hub in Adelaide last week, later than the November 9 date of arrival from SA that state governments have nominated as now requiring mandatory self-isolation.
During Monday Queensland’s state government confirmed that anyone who has arrived from SA since November 9 will need to get tested and quarantine for 14 days which will impact the state squad while the Western Australia team were also isolating.
“Following the State’s border closure to South Australia, WA players and staff who arrived from Adelaide on Saturday afternoon are currently undergoing 14 days of self-quarantine,” a WACA statement said. “The group started their quarantine on Saturday 14 November at 11:59pm, following the completion of the Marsh Sheffield Shield hub campaign, and will undergo Covid-19 testing over this period. The WACA is working closely with the relevant authorities to determine the best means of approach for player management over the two weeks.”
However, the New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian has indicated that its borders will not be closed. NSW players returning from Adelaide have not been requited to self-isolate, but have a standing requirement to get tested and self-isolated should any experience possible Covid-19 symptoms.
CA will continue assessing the state of play in SA, not only in terms of self-isolation requirements for domestic players but also in terms of how the current outbreak may affect plans for the start of the India Test series. The first match is scheduled to be played at Adelaide Oval from December 17 with Australia’s Test squad due to gather in the city during the previous week. The city is also due to host BBL matches from late December.
Pat Cummins, Australia’s vice-captain, remained confident a way would be mapped out to enable the main part of the season – the series against India and the BBL – to take place.
“CA have thought of every contingency,” he said. “I think if we can fly over to the UK and play in a bubble over there, it shows that we’ll find a way, whatever it takes. So we’ve done England, we’ve done IPL, the Shield guys and the WBBL girls have all had different kinds of bubbles they’ve been involved with, so we’ll see what level that’s at, but whatever it is, the priority is once we get there we play cricket.
“It might be one of those cases where it’s different in different states. I think everyone knows we’ve got to be adaptable, I think the last six months more than any other time, you literally have to take it day by day.”
The India squad – and the Australia players who were at the IPL – are currently undergoing 14 days quarantine in Sydney during which time they are able to train at Blacktown. That period ends on the eve of the ODI series which begins on November 27 at the SCG which will stage the first two matches before Canberra hosts the third ODI and first T20 with that series then returning to Sydney.
India have two warm-up matches against Australia A in Sydney ahead of the Test series, the first at Drummoyne Oval from December 6-8, which overlaps with the T20 series, followed by a day-night match at the SCG from December 11-13.