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Australia losing grip of Gabba stronghold

The search for crowds might mean a mid-December future for the Gabba Getty Images

Australia's cricketers should be prepared to say goodbye to the Gabba as their traditional starting point to summer outside of Ashes series - if the words of the Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland are anything to go by.

While admitting the team sees the Gabba as a "real stronghold", Sutherland has hinted strongly that the search for a more commercially successful Brisbane Test is likely to lead to this year's mid-December time slot being persisted with, more than likely in the day/night configuration to be tried against Pakistan this week. Such a decision would mean the loss of a major competitive advantage for the hosts.

In unveiling the schedule for next summer's Ashes, CA have outlined how that now seems to be the only Test series in which the national team's preparation is to be kept as ideal as possible, with as many as four Sheffield Shield matches scheduled before the first match at the Gabba. Other summers against less marketable opponents will likely throw up similar issues to those seen this season - at least until proposed league structures for international cricket are approved at ICC level and take effect some time after 2019.


"We'll definitely keep our options open there. Every summer's different. I know there are aspects of the 2018-19 summer that are very different to others, that's just the nature of international cricket," Sutherland said when asked about keeping the Gabba Test in mid-December. "It's certainly a possibility we play the Brisbane Test match at a different time in the season.

"I want to make that very clear. It was absolutely calculated for us to play the Test match here at this time. We wanted to ensure we gave ourselves the best opportunity to understand the Brisbane market and how we can increase attendances here. There's a lot of promotion around it, we've got fantastic partners in the Queensland government and Brisbane city council, let's see how this week pans out.

"We're on target to have the highest attendance ever for a non-Ashes Test match at the Gabba this week. We're looking at around 80,000 and we're very hopeful we're on track for that."

Success in home Ashes series is seen as the most pivotal team performance metric for the entirety of CA, especially after the disastrous 2010-11 summer placed considerable heat upon Sutherland and the governing body's board directors, resulting in the Argus review. To that end, Australia's players can expect a similar lead-in to the 2013-14 season, albeit with the distraction of an ODI series in India beforehand. That result eased a level of pressure on the top end of CA that has not been matched by this summer's home series loss to South Africa.

"We're really comfortable with the traditional order, and let's be honest, this venue is a real stronghold for the Australian team, they love playing here," Sutherland said. "This is the same order as the 13-14 Ashes summer, which was very successful for the team and in terms of spectator attendance and public interests.

"We've really wanted to not change anything in that regard, and we'll have a similar lead-in to the 13-14 summer with something like three or four Shield matches leading into the first Test, which we're able to do when the Ashes series starts in late November.

"The preparation leading into a series of Test cricket will depend from year to year, it's actually quite difficult when you start a Test series in early November because usually the Australian team will be touring somewhere. But we need to work around that to get the best possible preparation in the circumstances, and for an Ashes series it's clear with a Test series starting in late November that we'll be able to get three matches in before the series starts."

Casting his eye over the MOU discussions currently going on between CA and the Australian Cricketers Association, Sutherland said that he was not worried by the prospect of industrial action from the players. "No, I'm not concerned," he said. "These sorts of negotiations come around every four years or whatever the cycle is and they're things that need to be worked through behind closed doors in an appropriate fashion.

"I don't think it's our role to be giving a ball-by-ball commentary on it. We will, with the ACA, work through it and work with the ACA and our players to ensure the game of cricket is stronger and better for whatever the new agreement might be.

"There is a lot to talk about and there are some very important issues and in some ways those issues are complex. Every time an agreement like this comes along it is an opportunity to put together a better agreement for all parties and I know that's what we're interested in and I know that's what the ACA is interested in."

Late on Tuesday the ACA chief executive Alistair Nicholson spoke about the past two days of negotiations, indicating there is a long way to go.

"Today we were able to clarify that the ACA and CA have a lot of detail to work through with differences in a number of areas," he said. "With the position that CA have taken in responding to our submission, we will now re-engage with the players and the ACA Executive to gain their feedback on CA's response.

"The players are emphatic that they are partners in the game and will continue to push for one agreement for all cricketers, men and women, national and state."