Australia and England must find way through Bear Hunt of Ashes obstacles
With the first Ashes Test almost upon us, some things have finally started to settle. In Australia, Tim Paine’s exit as captain and player has been absorbed, with not much time needed to get used to Pat Cummins as the entirely expected successor. A new wicketkeeper and a new vice-captain have been chosen, largely as predicted.
In the UK, five weeks after releasing the statement that “Yorkshire County Cricket Club is pleased to announce the actions it has taken” over its investigation into racism, which recommended no action against any of the offenders, the club’s new management has sacked the old staff en masse. Given Yorkshire’s intransigence until now, it was the only viable method of slate-cleaning. Accordingly, the cricket administrators of both countries will be eager to claim some goodwill on entering this marquee series.
Unfortunately, things are the opposite of being settled in the arena of the virus. You know the one – it has had enough airtime by now. Having seen a new variant, suddenly Australian politicians are back to border closures. The federal government has banned arrivals from some African countries – though not European where cases have been found. In any case, the variant is already in New South Wales.
Both Ashes teams have done two weeks of quarantine to enter Queensland on the expectation that travel from there would be open and easy to South Australia, then Victoria, then NSW.
Cricket Australia could have avoided that by changing the order of Tests, given Queensland’s proximity to its vaccination target, but the players accepted a relaxed resort quarantine near Brisbane was not significantly more onerous than the precautions they would have needed to take in a training camp in Melbourne or Sydney.
But now South Australia is an unknown: some political reporters were briefed on Saturday that a border closure to Victoria and New South Wales was imminent, only for the premier to hold a press conference announcing that it would not happen.
This kind of non-announcement tends to be a softener for the change to be implemented later. The players would probably still get into Adelaide from Brisbane, but almost all of the media contingent would be stuck in Melbourne or Sydney, where broadcasters and journalists have planned to cover the match off television to avoid Queensland quarantine.
Western Australia’s government has surely ended the last wispy notion of a Perth Test, despite Cricket Australia clinging to the phantasm even as daylight dissolves it. For the teams to play in Perth they would have to fit two weeks of quarantine into the four free days after the Sydney Test, something beyond even the considerable adaptability of Marnus Labuschagne.
Another venue is required, several are being considered. Cricket Tasmania is now lobbying CA to get that match, days after savaging CA for encouraging local boy Paine’s resignation over sexual text messages sent to a colleague.
“The treatment afforded to the Australian Test captain by Cricket Australia has been appalling and the worst since Bill Lawry over 50 years ago,” was the line from CT chair, Andrew Gaggin.
He has been less forthright about the Federal Court sexual harassment case brought against the institution on 26 November by the recipient of Paine’s messages, with reports that at least two other CT employees behaved similarly.
CT made sure news outlets knew the organisation had accused the woman of theft, but not that she had already lodged a harassment claim before their accusation was made. Shades of Yorkshire in Hobart.
Just another calm and easy Ashes buildup then?
At least the sun has come out in Brisbane after 10 days of torrents. The percentages on that sample may not be favourable, but it shows good conditions are possible even under the weeping of La Niña.
Boards in trouble always hope people will stop paying attention when the matches start. It is also true that when matches start, it is usually a relief. So it would sting if the first Test is a parade of rain delays.
This southern summer was supposed to be the free and easy one, after two bad years. But complications threaten.
As any kid who has read We’re All Going on a Bear Hunt knows: we can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. We’ll have to go through it.