Dual Sydney Tests among CA's contingency scenarios
There's now a possibility the Gabba may not host any Test this series
New South Wales would find itself hosting each of the final two Tests of the series against India at the SCG and Queensland left entirely empty-handed due to its closed southern border under one of the scenarios on the table as administrators wrestle with how to navigate the many complications created by the Covid-19 outbreak on Sydney's northern beaches.
The number of cases in the outbreak appears to have stabilised, with daily totals of seven and eight recorded by NSW Health over the past two days, all but one linked to the same northern beaches cluster centred on Avalon. This bodes well in public health terms for the successful staging of major cricket matches from the second week of January onwards.
Even amid the current outbreak, the A-League is to launch its season with a match in Sydney on Sunday night with at least 50% stadium capacity allowed. The larger problem for Cricket Australia, Cricket NSW and the SCG Trust is that of border closures, in particular between NSW and Queensland, where the Gabba is meant to host the fourth Test of the series, starting January 15.
For most of the past five days, the options available appear to have veered between switching the Brisbane and Sydney Tests to allow more time for borders to re-open, or to play back-to-back matches at the MCG, where both touring teams are currently preparing for the Boxing Day Test.
While the back-to-back MCG Tests option remains the most likely at present, ESPNcricinfo understands that a third possible option has emerged, whereby the New Year's Test at the SCG is played from January 7 onwards as scheduled, and if the Queensland border does not open in time, the final match of the series is also held at the SCG. Only one Big Bash League match, the January 16 meeting between the Sydney Sixers and the Perth Scorchers at the SCG, would need to be moved as a result.
Such a scenario would honour CA's commitment to return to play a Test at the SCG after NSW proved helpful in providing India's port of entry to begin the tour at short notice, after lengthy and ultimately unsuccessful negotiations with Queensland's health department and state government to do likewise.
That backdrop has been further underlined by the current squabbling between the premiers of NSW and Queensland, over the northern state's decision to impose a hard border at Christmas time. Either way, CA is likely to reach a decision on whether to overturn its current schedule before the start of the Boxing Day Test.
The biggest obstacle to the dual SCG Test scenario would be possible implications for Australian players intending to take part in the remainder of the BBL following the end of the India series, depending on whether or not other state borders remained closed to NSW at the time.
CA, NSW, Queensland and SCG Trust officials remained locked in talks on Wednesday, as brainstorming continued as to how to play out the remainder of the series safely and smoothly.
Nathan Lyon, Australia's No. 1 spin bowler, is set to play his 100th Test in the final match of the series, and said he was hopeful that CA and the states would be able to find a way to play at least one Test at the SCG if at all possible.
"It's a difficult one to answer," Lyon said. "I know CA is doing everything in their power that the third Test match is in Sydney and hopefully all things go well up in Sydney and more importantly a lot of people stay safe and get well and fingers crossed the third Test match can be at the SCG. But that's all in the hands of everyone above my pay grade and all I know is CA is doing everything they possibly can. Fingers crossed everyone stays safe, especially over this special time of year.
"It's been a pretty adaptable year for everyone around the world. It's out of our hands and I'm just hoping that everyone in Sydney are getting safe and staying safe over this festive time of the year and I know CA is doing everything in their power to hopefully have the Test match in Sydney."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig