Sydney has emerged as a last moment contender to host the arrival of India's squad for the tour of Australia due to begin next month, after Cricket Australia and Queensland Health met again on Monday evening in the latest juncture of a laborious process to begin the tour in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast.
The SCG stands ready and able to host the majority of the white-ball matches that are meant to start the tour. Currently, they are slated as three ODIs on November 27 and 29 and December 1, with the T20Is scheduled on December 4, 6 and 8. The latest update came with the New South Wales (NSW) state government already demonstrating its willingness to host overseas touring squads in the shape of the Argentina rugby team.
The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and Canberra, which boast an international venue in the Manuka Oval, is also in the mix to play a part in hosting some of the matches. CA's broadcasters Foxtel and Seven would also favourably meet this alternative of Sydney and Canberra getting into the mix, as it would help reduce costs besides removing the need for production staff and commentators to quarantine in Queensland before commencing the season. Ongoing conduct of the tour for the start of the Test series would also be straightforward due to the open border currently existing between NSW and South Australia (SA).
The tour is likely to start with a pink-ball Test at Adelaide Oval between December 17 and 21, as Adelaide remains a back-up option for the Boxing Day Test from December 26-30. Otherwise, Melbourne would be preferred for Boxing Day, followed by Tests in Sydney from January 7-11 and finally in Brisbane from January 15-19.
In contrast to the Gabba, which has hosted a huge number of relocated AFL fixtures this year and is still to host the league's Grand Final on Saturday before cricket preparations can begin in earnest, the SCG's assignments have been less than originally planned. This is due to extra rugby league games being moved to Queensland, leaving the ground in serviceable shape.
"We've got ground availability, we've got the processes and we can certainly manage the biosecurity. We'd certainly be a very willing substitute," Tony Shepherd, the SCG Trust chairman, told the Sydney Morning Herald. "We'd be interested in helping cricket in any way we could."
CA has appeared to run into conflict in Queensland, where the state government is less than two weeks away from an election, having kept its borders tight all year in the time of Covid-19. CA and the state government have already worked together on the successful staging of Australia women's white-ball matches against New Zealand at Allan Border Field recently. But there continues to be roadblocks raised in terms of the Indian squad's ability to serve out a 14-day quarantine period in which the players are able to leave their hotel in order to train.
"Queensland Health and Cricket Australia held a productive meeting in regards to CA's proposal to quarantine the Indian and Australian squads returning from the IPL," a CA spokesperson said. "This is an extremely detailed and complex plan that places the health and safety of the community, players and staff as paramount and there is clarification required in order to finalise arrangements.
"We would like to thank our friends at the BCCI for their patience and understanding as we work towards a swift and successful outcome. CA is confident of and committed to hosting a full schedule of matches between the Australian and Indian men's teams this summer."
After the Western Australia state government blocked CA's initial approaches to start India's tour and accommodate the Australian players returning home from the IPL in the UAE, the interim chief executive Nick Hockley turned next to South Australia, whose state government allowed for the non-IPL component of the national white-ball squad to quarantine at Adelaide's Oval Hotel.
This arrangement was thought to be ideal for India also, but the South Australia government then baulked at the possibility of being the first port of entry for a far bigger party of overseas tourists. In recent weeks, the Victorian team that travelled from locked-down Melbourne to Adelaide for the start of the Sheffield Shield has faced increasingly stringent regulations for their own stint of quarantine, contributing to their fixtures in Adelaide getting reduced from three games to two.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig