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Covid could threaten Cricket Australia's hopes of full domestic season

All competitions have been scheduled in full with the Sheffield Shield due to start late September

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
Queensland won last season's Sheffield Shield  •  Getty Images

Queensland won last season's Sheffield Shield  •  Getty Images

Cricket Australia hopes to play all its domestic competitions in full during the 2020-21 summer, including one of the earliest starts to the Sheffield Shield, although plans could be threatened by Covid-19.
The Sheffield Shield and Marsh One-Day Cup will return to their full length - 31 and 22 matches respectively - after being trimmed last season due to the pandemic. The Women's National Cricket League (WNCL) will again consist of 29 matches.
Last season the WBBL and the first group of Sheffield Shield matches were held in hubs in Sydney and Adelaide respectively, but CA's head of cricket operations Peter Roach said that would be a last resort this season with concerns over player welfare at the forefront of minds.
"We do know last year we successfully extended a little into April so there's opportunities before we default to having to play in a hub," he told ESPNcricinfo. "What we are conscious of is that it does have a negative effect on our players and staff. It's a long season and one of the learnings from last year was that come the end of BBL that the appetite for a lot of cricket was challenged."
The most immediate concerns will be the early-season matches scheduled around Sydney - currently in a lockdown that could be extended into August - which include the start of India's multi-format tour.
The domestic season is scheduled to begin on September 11 - less than two months away - with the first batch of Marsh Cup games followed by the WNCL on September 23 and the first round of the Sheffield Shield on September 28. The early start is an attempt to allow enough recovery time between matches especially during the six rounds before the BBL that will provide important preparation for the Ashes.
"We try to space the games out to give players the best chance of playing in all of them," Roach said. "Early on the gaps need to be a bit bigger so the bodies can repair themselves. Dragging those Shield games into late September has allowed us to have those gaps between the games."
The Sheffield Shield final is scheduled for March 26-30 with the Marsh Cup decided on February 27 and the WNCL on March 6.
An Australia-England women's A-team series will feature three T20s between January 26 and 28 then three one-day games from February 5-10 which overlaps the first part of the Ashes.
England Lions - the men's second team - will face Australia A in a four-day game that runs concurrently to the first Ashes Test from December 9-12 at Ian Healy Oval in Brisbane. England, whose players are expected to arrive in two groups with those involved at the T20 World Cup coming earlier, are likely to add further intra-squad matches to their schedule ahead of the first Test with Cricket Australia in ongoing conversations with governments about allowing them to train in quarantine.
Other tour matches inked in are the India women's side facing a Cricket Australia XI on September 17 ahead of the ODI series and New Zealand's men also facing a CA XI at the start of their short tour on January 27 at the WACA.
All these schedules are dependent on the Covid-19 situation with the ambition of playing full home-and-away programmes involving regular interstate travel meaning there is always the prospect of changes. The winter codes are currently facing huge challenges to get their fixtures completed with Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide under lockdowns of varying lengths.
"Like all sports, we cannot rule out facing challenges created by the global pandemic at some stage in the season," Roach said. "However, the lessons of the 2020-21 summer have prepared us well to be agile and adapt as required to deliver the best possible season for the players and fans."
The two Big Bash schedules were announced earlier this month: the WBBL will begin on October 14 with the final on November 27 and the BBL runs from December 5 to January 28.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo