They are the only Australian sporting team to have left the country since the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the planet. But since they departed for England last month, the issue has been getting Justin Langer’s men back in.
That assignment is further complicated by Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan’s unwillingness let players to land in Perth on the way back from Australia’s limited-overs tour of England, or from the Indian Premier League in Dubai, unless they spend a fortnight in their hotel rooms.
While the western capital was their preferred quarantine location, those restrictions do not suit Cricket Australia or the all-powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India, who also want Virat Kohli and his side to be able to train in a biosecure environment when they arrive in November rather than having to isolate for two weeks.
With McGowan going cold on the idea after a breach of the AFL and WA government’s protocols by Sydney Swans player Elijah Taylor, CA has been in discussions with state governments in South Australia and Queensland to confirm a training hub upon the players’ entry to Australia and a spokesman said arrangements for the national team’s return “will be finalised this week”.
Adelaide is now the most likely location. Logistically, it makes the most sense because of the new hotel attached to Adelaide Oval. The hotel has two wings, meaning one section can be blocked off from the other, and rooms have already been booked for players to spend their quarantine period in the coming months.
As for the South Australia government, a spokesperson said on Sunday it was working closely with CA about hosting games but any decision would “need to be ticked off by the relevant health authorities”.
Confirmation of the WA hub snub came as Sunday’s extension of the lockdown in Victoria cast even further doubt on the Boxing Day Test between Australia and India being held at the MCG.
The hardline stance of the WA premier has also thrown another spanner in the works for the one-off Test between Australia and Afghanistan. It is slated to be held in Perth and was already looming as a lengthy and expensive exercise, with the minnows flying to Australia to isolate for a fortnight before a match the cynics would suggest may barely last three days.
Officials remain intent on making the Afghanistan Test happen, but according to a source with knowledge of the planning for the summer, it is only a 50-50 chance of going ahead.
In quashing CA’s proposal to use Perth as the quarantine base for overseas arrivals, and therefore the launch pad of the season, McGowan said: “We didn’t think it was acceptable to have the team return from a high-risk overseas location and then take part in normal training activities outside of quarantine, before flying out to another state to play games.
“There were just too many risks in the model put forward by Cricket Australia. We need to remain vigilant and do the right thing by all Western Australians and not take unnecessary chances.”
A CA spokesman said: “We acknowledge the WA government has a firm position on quarantine and border arrangements. The Australian men’s team will not be quarantining in Perth upon their return from the UK.”
Perth’s Optus Stadium was expected to stage limited-overs matches against India that will precede the Test series but in a revised schedule yet to be announced those games are expected to now be transferred elsewhere. What international cricket is played at all in the west this summer will be up to McGowan.
“We plan to continue to put forward submissions for hubs [to the WA government] and we’re hopeful of having international cricket in Perth,” WACA chief Christina Matthews said.
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Chris Barrett is Chief Sports Reporter of The Sydney Morning Herald.