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The Adelaide Test has been confirmed as the first match of the Australia-India series and is set to begin on December 9, three days earlier than originally scheduled. The Brisbane Test will be shifted to second in the series and will begin on December 17, and the Sydney Test will be pushed back by three days to allow the players extra recovery time during a condensed, reworked four-Test schedule.
The changes were reported by host broadcaster Channel Nine on Monday night and the new dates were then posted in the fixtures section of Cricket Australia's website. Under the new schedule, the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne will be the only match of the series to retain its original dates. In late evening CA released an advisory, in which the chief executive James Sutherland explained the rationale for the changes.
"Nobody should underestimate just what these players are going through right now. These are difficult days and we need to support them in dealing with their grief," Sutherland said. "It's very clear that playing a Test right now is just too soon and we are reacting accordingly.
"We appreciate the understanding of cricket fans around the country, particularly those in Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney during these highly difficult times. We acknowledge the difficulties this presents within the cricket communities that make these Test matches such terrific occasions.
"We are grateful to State Cricket Associations and venues in those cities for their understanding and willingness to accommodate such last-minute changes. A concern with these changes has been creating congestion within the cricket calendar by holding four Test matches in 33 days. We knew that if we started any later than 9 December, that congestion would only get worse.
"We looked at possibly holding the Brisbane Test in the new year following Sydney but we felt that would only compromise the tri-series against England and India which is important preparation for our ICC Cricket World Cup campaign. There will be knock-on effects from these decisions which people will obviously want answers to. We will work through them as quickly as we can, but just ask for patience given these unprecedented circumstances."
The Brisbane Test was to begin this Thursday but Cricket Australia announced at the weekend that it would be postponed due to the funeral for Phillip Hughes, which will take place in his hometown of Macksville on Wednesday. That led to complex discussions around the rescheduling of the Gabba Test, with a number of options considered, including cancelling it entirely.
Other scenarios, such as the delay of the Gabba and Adelaide Tests by a few days each and the playing of the Brisbane match last, following the New Year's Test in Sydney, were ruled out. The former option was judged to allow the players too little time following Hughes' funeral, while the latter would unduly interfere with lead-in time for the triangular ODI series that will precede the World Cup.
Instead, it has been decided to compromise by squeezing all four Tests into a 33-day period. The compressed fixture will mean only three days between the Adelaide and Brisbane Tests, and four days between Brisbane and Melbourne.
A longer break between the third and fourth Tests in Melbourne and Sydney was therefore included to give the players extra rest time during what will already be a hectic month. In the lead-up to the first Test, which starts on Tuesday next week, India are expected to play a two-day tour match in Adelaide on December 4 and 5.
Australia's players were united in their belief that Adelaide would be the more appropriate start venue for the Test series, and they are believed to be willing to handle the rigours of what will effectively become four back-to-back Tests. Adelaide Oval will also be a fitting venue for Australia's first match after laying Hughes to rest, given that it was his adopted home ground for the past two summers.
"While this wasn't done by design, it is somewhat fitting that the first Test will take place in Adelaide at Phillip's adopted home ground where we hope the match can be a seen as a celebration of his life," Sutherland said. "We are committed to developing a range of tributes that show just how much Phillip was loved by the Australian cricket community."
The five-day delay to the start of the Test series could also have consequences for the squads picked by each team. India's captain MS Dhoni had been ruled out of the first Test at the Gabba due to an injury to his right thumb and Australia's captain Michael Clarke seemed certain to miss due to a hamstring injury. However, both men will now have extra recovery time ahead of the new first Test.
Clarke, though, has naturally been unable to continue his rehabilitation programme over the past week. He has flown to Macksville ahead of Wednesday's funeral, while several other New South Wales-based members of the Test squad attended state training in Sydney on Monday, for the first time since Hughes died on Thursday. Brad Haddin and Josh Hazlewood were among the Test squad members who took part in a light training session.
Cricket Australia also needed to make a decision on the next round of Sheffield Shield matches, which was to begin this Friday. One of the games, between New South Wales and Queensland, is scheduled to be played at the SCG, where Hughes was struck by a bouncer last Tuesday. Late on Monday night, the Cricket Australia website fixture had those games listed to start four days later, on December 9.
Grade cricket in Sydney and Adelaide was cancelled over the weekend but club cricket continued at lower levels, and at suburban grounds all around the country tributes were paid to Hughes.
An especially poignant moment occurred in a grade match in Perth, where Ashton Agar was dismissed for 98 while batting for University on Saturday. It was the same score that Agar made on Test debut at Trent Bridge last year, when he batted with Hughes for more than two hours and set a new Test record for a tenth-wicket Test partnership.