The drama comes as hopes were fading for the Sydney Test to remain at the SCG despite new case numbers linked to the city’s northern beaches cluster reducing for a second consecutive day.
A decision could come as early as Wednesday to pull the pin on Sydney and hand back-to-back Tests to Melbourne, which had been in in danger of being sidelined altogether as it battled a devastating second wave of COVID-19.
MCG curator Matt Page says his team will be able to prepare a second strip for use in the third Test starting January 7 but his focus remains on this weekend’s iconic fixture.
Warner is already under an injury cloud due to a groin injury and his hopes of making an unlikely return at the MCG would be derailed entirely if he is not permitted to enter CA’s hub in Melbourne.
He and Sean Abbott were waiting to join the Australian and Indian teams, who arrived in Melbourne on Tuesday, in the hub having been flown out of Sydney by CA on Saturday to beat any border closure.
Warner and Abbott have satisfied CA’s biosecurity protocols as they have not been to Sydney’s northern beaches, have returned negative COVID-19 tests and completed three days of self-isolation.
The opener posted footage on Instagram on Tuesday morning of himself playing with his family in a Melbourne park. Should permission not be granted, Warner could still sit in the stands with 30,000 Victorians to watch the game.
Opener Marcus Harris is remaining with the Australian squad as cover.
Meetings were ongoing on Tuesday involving all levels of CA, which is wary of being locked out of Queensland should it play the third Test in Sydney, potentially putting the series at risk.
While Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath has said the government would review border restrictions to NSW on January 8, CA will not take undue risks after delays with the state’s health officials in granting training exemptions for Indian and Australian players entering from the IPL.
A CA source says Melbourne is a raging favourite to stage the third Test as that would present fewer logistical challenges regarding the movement of players and broadcast staff into Queensland than keeping the game in Sydney. Canberra had also been floated as an outside chance.
Page said on Tuesday preparations for Saturday’s second Test were going to plan. While Melbourne’s lockdown meant there has been no first-class cricket at the ground this season, a two-day trial match last month, with 349 runs scored and 10 wickets falling on the first day, has given ground staff confidence the Boxing Day strip will provide what players, coaches, fans and broadcasters want – a good contest between bat and ball.
“We’ve been vocal about our aim for the MCG pitches to have something in them for both bat and ball. So we’re concentrating on pace, bounce and lateral movement. Those were seen in last year’s Test pitch where we were awarded the ICC’s highest rating,” Page said.
The famous venue stands ready to hold two Tests in the one summer for the first time since 1981-82 – if required.
“Our focus is on the Boxing Day Test and producing a great pitch for that. We have five drop-in pitches in the centre of the MCG and we’re preparing those as we would regardless, including a focus on the BBL matches we’re hosting in January,” Page said.
Former Australia captain Steve Smith said he had complete confidence that the MCG would be able to serve up two good pitches within a three-week period.
“Last year’s wicket was probably as even between bat and ball as we have played on for some time. I thought it was a pretty good wicket. We’ll wait and see what is prepared for this year,” he said.
“If something was to happen, and they needed us to play there again, I am sure they would be able to come up with some kind of solution. The groundsmen are pretty good these days at adapting to different situations.”
Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Sydney Morning Herald
Jon Pierik is cricket writer for The Age. He also covers AFL and has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.