Two rounds have been cut from the Sheffield Shield and the Marsh Cup will be a five-game tournament in the restructured Australian domestic calendar, but the completion of all the fixtures hang in the balance because of the uncertainty regarding state border controls around the country. Western Australia remains a major concern for Cricket Australia's schedule, with the state government maintaining strict Covid-19 border rules for travellers coming in.
CA and the state cricket associations ticked off on the new revamped domestic schedule late last week with each state to play eight Shield matches in total, including those already played, and five 50-over Marsh Cup matches with the top two teams in each competition to play off in the finals in April. The Marsh Cup final will be played on April 11 and the Shield final on April 15-19.
The Australian Cricketers' Association agreed to a reduction of games this season on the understanding that it would return to ten rounds and a final next season.
The first half of the Shield season took place in October and November in a hub in Adelaide but the rest of the fixtures will now be played in all six states, with teams to fly commercially alongside the general public and arrange their own accommodation as has been the case in previous seasons. The bio-security rules are set to be far less stringent than they were during the BBL.
The season recommences next Monday with New South Wales hosting Victoria in a Marsh Cup fixture in Sydney, where Pat Cummins will make his NSW captaincy debut before the two sides meet in a Shield game at the SCG two days later.
WA were initially scheduled to face New South Wales in Sydney on that date but the entire schedule was restructured because of WA's complicated border situation.
Travellers entering WA from states where there has been a community Covid-19 case in the previous 28 days are required to do 14-days strict home isolation upon arrival. With the BBL final being played in Sydney, where there has been a recent case, WA and Perth Scorchers' entire coaching staff, as well as WA and Scorchers players Cameron Bancroft, Aaron Hardie, Josh Inglis, Matt Kelly, Joel Paris and Corey Rocchiccioli have been forced into home isolation in Perth for the next 14 days, with the period to end on February 21, a day after the first two rescheduled Shield games have been completed. Had the final been played in Canberra, where both the Qualifier and the Challenger were played, none of the coaches or players would have needed to do home isolation.
Shaun Marsh and Hilton Cartwright, who played in the BBL with the Melbourne Renegades and the Melbourne Stars respectively, are currently in home quarantine, having started 14 days earlier than those coming back from Sydney. David Moody, who was with the Hobart Hurricanes, is also starting a 14-day quarantine having travelled home from Melbourne. Moody delayed his return to WA in the hope that borders would open, only for Victoria to report multiple Covid-19 cases in the past week. The remainder of WA's squad that aren't in New Zealand with Australia's T20I squad, including Test player Cameron Green, have been in WA during the BBL, although Green and Australia coach Justin Langer had to serve 14-days quarantine after returning home from the Brisbane Test against India last month.
The WACA has secured training exemptions for staff and players to attend three training sessions at the WACA ground next week on the proviso there are no further cases in NSW.
WA is set to host three Shield matches and three Marsh Cup matches under the new schedule, including fixtures against Victoria in both competitions from March 23 to March 28. WA is also set to travel to Sydney to face NSW in a Marsh Cup fixture on March 14. If the current WA border rules remain in place, both NSW and Victoria would need to have 28 consecutive days from now without a community Covid-19 case for those fixtures to go ahead as planned.
CA executive general manager of high-performance Drew Ginn said CA would remain agile and open to shifting fixtures if and when necessary as it was during the BBL.
"Today's announcement safeguards the integrity of the Marsh Sheffield Shield and Marsh One-Day Cup competitions while managing the physical and mental wellbeing of players, officials, and staff on account of the extraordinary demands placed upon them this season," he said. "Every person across Australian Cricket has worked incredibly hard to deliver this summer of cricket and should be proud of those efforts. At the same time, the lived experience of operating through the pandemic has provided us all with new appreciation and perspective for the increased workloads required to deliver elite, national sporting competitions.
"It is out of this duty of care that, with the input and support of the States and Territories Associations and the ACA, we have elected to shorten the Marsh Sheffield Shield and Marsh One-Day Cup, while ensuring both competitions are of a sufficient length to ensure a high-level of competition for teams and players.
"As has been the case throughout the summer, we will need to remain agile and responsive given the public health situation across the country. The health and wellbeing of players, officials, and staff remains the top priority."
Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Melbourne