Player power helps 'fortress' Gabba regain opening Test but challenges remain

Australia have a formidable record at the Gabba Getty Images

The influence of Australia's players has helped the Gabba reclaim the opening Test of the Australia season, but the ground is under pressure to deliver strong crowds against Pakistan and will need further significant investment if it wants to keep its slot for the marquee fixture.

Australia have not lost a Test at the Gabba since 1988 and the two times since that the opening Test of the season has not been scheduled in Brisbane are the only occasions Australia have been beaten - 2016 against South Africa in Perth and last season against India. Players and coaches were privately fuming at not getting the chance to start the India series at the Gabba, instead opening in Adelaide on a surface with less threatening pace and carry.

After extensive negotiations between Cricket Australia and the Queensland Government, Brisbane will host the opening match of the two-Test series against Pakistan in late November and there will be much focus on how many people come through the turnstiles with another tour by India in 2020-2021 and an Ashes series the following year.

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"We listen to what the players are after, that's something with how the schedule is put together," Belinda Clark, CA's interim high-performance director, said. "There's a lot of complex relationships that need to managed and the players are one of those. The players are thrilled that this result has eventuated for this season."

Max Walters, the Queensland Cricket CEO, said: "It's wonderful news that not only is the international schedule packed to rafters but the spiritual home of the first Test has got the first Test back. A fortress for the Australia, the Gabba is back in November. It's an outstanding result and fingers crossed in years to come with India coming back and also the Ashes."

Clark was confident of having India return to the Gabba. "There's a lot of work that goes on in the background to make sure those relationships are strong, but India have played here previously and will play here again, that's not a problem."

Brisbane's Test last season was a day-night encounter against Sri Lanka, in the midst of the Big Bash, which was over on the third day and did not really capture the imagination of the public. It is understood that the venue is unlikely to pitch for day-night Tests in the future with Adelaide seen as the natural home for those matches and Perth now also making a strong push having earned a floodlight Test against New Zealand next season.

However, while there will be pressure on the Gabba to get healthy crowds for the visit of Pakistan - what figure would class as a pass mark remains to be seen, but it could be around 20,000 per day - it is accepted that the spectator experience also needs to be improved following work to upgrade the player facilities.

"We've got an expectation that this place is great for fans, great for the team and the endeavor is there to make sure that's the case," Clark said. "When you have a stadium in this city and state that people come to watch sport we just need to make sure it's at the right standard, everything is being done to make sure that's the case. Front and center is the experience for the fans."

Discussions are well advanced for the sale of the naming rights for the ground and the revenue generated from that will be put back into the stadium. The big long-term project which Queensland Cricket hopes will make a major difference is the construction of a train station opposite the ground and associated work outside the stadium, but that remains a number of years away from completion.

"When tickets go on sale I want to encourage every Australian cricket fan to book your ticket to see the return of the first Test at its rightful home of the Gabba," Queensland sports minister Mick de Brenni said. "Queenslanders and Australians were bitterly disappointed that the first test of last year's season wasn't here at the Gabba. Keeping it back here, though, will rely on us continuing to invest at the Gabba to make sure facilities are up to standard, for both players and spectators."