Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Melbourne
Victoria and New South Wales are planning to push ahead with Monday's Marsh Cup opener at North Sydney Oval despite difficulties in getting the Victoria side to Sydney following their state government's decision to impose a strict five-day Covid lockdown starting at midnight on Friday.
The Victorian government announced on Friday afternoon that the state would head into its third strict lockdown in 10 months following an outbreak of the new variant of Covid-19 from a quarantine hotel near Melbourne Airport.
In response, the NSW government announced that any travellers arriving from Melbourne into NSW would be forced to undergo a five-day stay-at-home order in line with the Victoria lockdown.
The decision by the Victorian state government forced a flurry of meetings at Cricket Australia and amongst the state cricket associations as the men's 50-over Marsh Cup and Sheffield Shield were due to recommence next week while the women's 50-over competition, the WNCL, was already in progress with Victoria and New South Wales playing the second of back-to-back matches at the Junction Oval in Melbourne on Friday.
The NSW women were able to secure a flight out of Melbourne on Friday night prior to the lockdown being imposed at midnight. But Victoria's men's team was unable to get on an early flight to Sydney ahead of Monday's Marsh Cup match.
On Friday evening, Cricket Victoria was still working with Cricket New South Wales and the Victoria and NSW state governments on the team's travel plan to Sydney with the aim for the match to still go ahead. The team first needs government clearance to fly to Sydney and also needs to secure enough seats on a plane as the number of flights available between the two states changed due to the Victorian government's lockdown. There is an expectation that the Victorian team will get clearance and be able to fly to Sydney on Sunday.
The game is due to be Pat Cummins' captaincy debut for NSW after he was named as the Blues' Marsh Cup captain for the remainder of the season.
Victoria and Australia batsman Will Pucovski is set to miss the Marsh Cup and Shield match that follows as he continues to struggle with his shoulder injury.
Earlier this week, Cricket Australia announced a restructured Sheffield Shield and Marsh Cup fixture for the remainder of the season despite some state border concerns already existing prior to the Melbourne outbreak.
Only Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania, and Queensland were fixtured to play on resumption next week because the majority of Western Australia's playing squad and coaching staff are stuck in mandatory 14-day home quarantine in Perth. The WA government has imposed a 14-day quarantine on travellers from states that have not been Covid-free for 28 days, meaning that the players and coaches involved with the Perth Scorchers in the BBL final in Sydney had to quarantine on return home.
The WA team is due to travel to NSW for a Marsh Cup match on March 14 although the WA government's quarantine requirements for travellers from NSW will be dropped between now and then should NSW remain Covid-free.
Victoria's women are due to head to WA for a WNCL match on March 18 while the men are due to travel to WA for a Shield match on March 23. The WA government has reinstated a hard border with Victoria meaning no travellers can enter without police clearance, and any exempt travellers with clearance would be required to do 14-days hotel quarantine.
Victoria coach Chris Rogers spoke early on Friday morning prior to the announcement of Victoria's five-day lockdown and expressed concern about whether the season could be completed in full.
"We're worried about the fact that we might not get games in," Rogers said. "There's probably an expectation or at least some wriggle room around the fact that we might have some games cancelled.
"It's probably up to me and the coaches to prepare players to play and what will be will be. We just have to roll with the punches as a lot of sports have done and take what comes.
"You'd love for every game to go ahead but one of our last games is against Western Australia in Perth so that's going to be touch and go. We'll have to see how that plays out."