Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
Sydney is clinging onto the third Test for now after the Cricket Australia (CA) board chose to give New South Wales (NSW) more time to handle its unfolding covid-19 outbreak. At the same time, they are holding fruitful discussions with the Queensland state government around the safe passage of players, staff, broadcasters and media to Brisbane for the scheduled fourth Test.
There had been strong prospects for Melbourne being awarded both the second and third Tests of the India series this week amid doubts around the Queensland border being re-opened in time for the tour caravan to travel there directly from Sydney in mid-January. However, CA's chairman Earl Eddings and interim chief executive Nick Hockley have decided to allow the situation to play out a little further before finalising their decision during the Boxing Day Test itself.
This also means the bold scenario revealed by ESPNcricinfo on Wednesday for the SCG to host each of the final two Tests remains in play, should CA and Queensland health and government officials fail to reach an understanding in time. Queensland's chief health officer, Dr Jeanette Young, offered cautious optimism about the touring teams and their staff being allowed to enter the state directly from Sydney. CA have met directly with the Queensland premier, Annastacia Pałaszczuk, to discuss their options for the January 15-19 Test.
"I know those cricket matches that have been played in other states, those cricket players have been part of a bubble and we've had that experience before if you will remember that's the process we used for the NRL and the AFL and for other sporting codes," Dr Young said. "So these cricketers have been part of a bubble.
"They will go into Sydney and continue to be part of a bubble, then if the decision is for the match to go ahead in the current arrangements, and that has not yet been decided, it's being worked through, they would remain in a bubble and come into quarantine in Queensland and continue to be part of a bubble. But I stress those discussions are happening now and things could very well change, nothing's been determined at this stage.
"If all of those things are in place at the moment, if they've been in a bubble in NSW and not come into contact with the general community in Sydney and if they remain in that bubble coming into Brisbane, then I think it could be done, but there's a lot of work to be done before that decision is made."
Hockley said that the CA board's deliberations were based around ensuring that the governing body did not lock itself into a binding decision too soon given the fluid situation in Sydney. On Thursday, health officials recorded nine new cases, seven linked to the original norther beaches cluster. At the same time, CA is highly conscious of its strong relationship with the NSW government and the SCG Trust, which stepped in to provide India with a port of arrival earlier in the year after their Queensland counterparts prevaricated in the lead-up to the state election.
"We have always maintained that scheduling a full summer of cricket during a global pandemic would require agility, problem-solving and teamwork like never before," Hockley said. "We continue to place the safety and wellbeing of everyone involved as our number one priority. The record testing numbers and the drop in new community transmissions in NSW have provided cause for optimism, however if the situation in Sydney deteriorates, we have strong contingency plans in place.
"We are working constructively with the Queensland Government and have been encouraged by the positive nature of discussions with them. We thank the Queensland Government for their support. CA has well-established biosecurity protocols in place and through safe completion of the season so far - which has included the women's internationals in Brisbane, Sheffield Shield in Adelaide, WBBL in Sydney and the men's ODIs and T20s in Sydney and Canberra - has developed a strong track record of safe and responsible return to sport."
These sentiments were echoed by Australia's coach Justin Langer, who said he was at peace with letting the administrators make the best call possible after a year in which he has learned not to worry about things beyond his direct control.
"What I've learned over the last nine months is we can only control what we can control," Langer said, "and if you get distracted by things that are completely out of your control you'll literally go mad. So we don't know, I know there's a lot of work being done, I know it is incredibly complex when you have to potentially change a venue. It's not just a matter of 'that sounds like a good idea'. There's broadcasters, there's so many stakeholders who are part of the overall decision. But I know people are working overtime."