Australia Day, January 26, will be devoid of an international fixture for the first time in 26 years as part of the schedule unveiled by Cricket Australia on Tuesday.
Not since Allan Border’s final season in 1994, when the concluding final of the World Series Cup on January 25 was followed by the start of a Test against South Africa in Adelaide on January 28, has the national day passed by without a major match, either a Test generally played at Adelaide Oval or a limited overs game, occasionally elsewhere.
The slot is expected to be filled by the Big Bash, which will take up a great deal of the slack left by a major gap in Australian men’s team fixtures between the end of the New Zealand Test series in early January and the Black Caps return for an ODI bout in late March.
“What we’ve found over the last few years is the composition of the Australian summer of cricket has changed and from a fan perspective I don’t think the fan necessarily differentiates between international [or] domestic,” CA’s executive for events and leagues Anthony Everard said. “We put on a variety of forms of cricket for every fan right around the country and what we’ve found is from an attendance perspective, it’s generally split around 50/50 in terms of attendees to BBL and international cricket.
“Australia Day presents a really great opportunity for cricket. Going back a few years now with the Adelaide Test match and then that transitioned into an ODI, we’ve got a great opportunity this year to schedule in some respects a celebration of cricket all around the country. It’s a long weekend and we’ve got a variety of BBL games we can schedule, not just in one market but right around the country, and that’s an opportunity for us as somewhat of a crescendo to the BBL season.”
One side-effect of the India tour taking place in mid-January and also the shuffling of a Test tour to Bangladesh until June 2020 is that Australia’s top players will be available for the pointy end of the BBL, as was the case last summer when the likes of Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Nathan Lyon and Glenn Maxwell all turned out for their clubs. At the same time, clubs are eagerly pursuing the likes of AB de Villiers and Andre Russell to help restock a league that has lost Shane Watson and Brendon McCullum among others this year.
“It’s something we’re really aiming towards,” Everard said. “We want to make sure the BBL finals is an appropriate crescendo to that tournament. We saw this year the impact of having the likes of Glenn Maxwell and Aaron Finch available for the final and what that did in terms of the quality of the cricket played, so yes that is a focus for us and we’re confident that this year in the BBL we will have Australian players available for the back end of the season.
“Something we’ve really been focusing on irrespective of the Australian team going to India, we’re buoyed by some conversations that some of the clubs are having and it’s been reported some of the big names potentially coming out. The success of the BBL has always been predicated on a combination of marketable overseas players, some young up and coming stars and the foundation of the Australian domestic players.”
CA had originally been under the impression that they would be playing a game on January 26 in India, also known as Republic Day, as part of a bilateral tour. However, the BCCI has pushed the series forward to games on January 12, 15 and 17, leaving the Australian team to return in time for BBL commitments but without any international opponent. The other assignment for Australia’s men between January and March is an ODI series in South Africa.
“Scheduling international cricket is challenging in that nine of the ten major cricketing countries have seasons similar to ours, so working with them to find space in the calendar to fulfil our obligations to the ICC Future Tours Program is a juggling act,” CA head of cricket operations Peter Roach said.
“Cricket Australia took the position that while January was our preference for these [New Zealand] ODI matches, there are times we need to honour our commitments to work in the greater context of international cricket scheduling. We evaluated different options for an alternative and saw the most value in the March opportunity to extend our window in the traditional cricket season.
Sri Lanka, Pakistan and New Zealand will all be touring Australia during the men’s international program, while the national women’s team will host Sri Lanka, India and England ahead of the T20 World Cup in Australia in February and March.
As for the provision of a day-night Test match for Perth’s new stadium, CA has been working at trying to provide more attractive time slots for cities other than Melbourne and Sydney. “We think day-night Test cricket has a really important role to play in the summer of cricket but it’s not a one size fits all,” Everard said.
“Clearly the Melbourne and Sydney Tests are scheduled at a time of the summer when our fans have the most discretionary leisure time available, so I don’t see any time soon when those fixtures will move to day-night, but once you get out of that peak holiday period it is really important to be able to schedule our games in a way that they’re as accessible as possible to our fans.”