A cold shoulder from the Western Australia (WA) state government has clarified the options for Australia's international season, with India's tour set to begin in Adelaide and Brisbane.
Adelaide Oval stands prepared to host back-to-back Tests - a day-night game and then a day match over the holiday period - should the MCG remain unsuitable for the Boxing Day showpiece amid Victoria's coronavirus lockdown.
The need for flexibility has also seen Cricket Australia (CA) lean heavily upon state associations in their planning, with matches to be primarily staged by staff already located in each state - a major departure from recent seasons in which CA has flown a massive travelling roadshow of events-team members around the country for international games. This model was introduced under the financial model that had CA taking on direct responsibility for managing international fixtures and passing on fixed annual distributions to the states.
"We didn't think it was acceptable to have the team return from a high-risk overseas location and then take part in normal training activities outside of quarantine, before flying out to another state to play games." Mark McGowan, the Premier of the WA state government
Initial plans devised by CA and the WACA had Australian and Indian players entering the country via Perth and preparing for the season via a relaxed quarantine that would have allowed them to train.
However, the final decision by the WA state government, and its Premier Mark McGowan, to insist on a strict hotel quarantine for any international visitors, has forced the governing body to look towards Brisbane and Adelaide for the start of India's tour, likely to commence with a suite of limited-overs matches before the four-Test series begins.
"We acknowledge the WA government has a firm position on quarantine and border arrangements," a CA spokesperson said. "The Australian men's team will not be quarantining in Perth upon their return from the UK."
Where this leaves the scheduled Test between Australia and Afghanistan in Perth is unclear, although WA's frustration with not being allotted one of the India Tests in the original schedule was plain. CA is still working assiduously to try to get the Afghanistan match played, and it would be of most value as a red-ball match for the home Test side led by Tim Paine immediately before the series against India.
"We didn't think it was acceptable to have the team return from a high-risk overseas location and then take part in normal training activities outside of quarantine, before flying out to another state to play games," McGowan said. "There were just too many risks in the model put forward by Cricket Australia. We need to remain vigilant and do the right thing by all Western Australians and not take unnecessary chances."
It is plausible that Brisbane's Test against India under the original schedule would instead become a cluster of white-ball matches, with three ODIs and three T20Is - all slated to be played by Virat Kohli's team. That may then give way to the Afghanistan Test match, before the Australian squad travels to Adelaide for the start of the India Test series in mid-December.
While Melbourne is likely to be kept in theoretical calculations as host of the traditional Boxing Day Test for as long as possible, the realities of crowds and Covid-19 restrictions make it more likely with every passing day that Adelaide will step in.
From there, the Test season may well reach a crescendo with back-to-back matches in Sydney. The other option would be to venture back to Brisbane and the Gabba for the final Test of the series.
A revised Test series schedule is expected to be announced by CA this week, pending government approvals.