NSW players guard their eyes from smoke haze during a Sheffield Shield game. Picture: Phil Hillyard
NSW players guard their eyes from smoke haze during a Sheffield Shield game. Picture: Phil Hillyard

How bushfires nearly robbed SCG of famous fixture

CRICKET Australia discussed moving the Sydney Test as the most extreme of a number of contingency plans considered around NSW's bushfire crisis.

The radical option never got off the tarmac and was discounted along with a number of possibilities raised, but the wide ranging discussion staged by CA over recent weeks highlights how seriously administrators have taken the potential dangers of the thick smoke that has clogged the Sydney skyline.

Australian and New Zealand players flew into Sydney to an all-too-familiar haze shrouding the city, but both sides have thrown their support behind match officials to make the right call about whether conditions are safe to play in come Friday's third Test at the SCG.

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Team staff are likely to add an assessment on air quality to Friday's pre-match medical briefing which will be held 60 minutes prior to play starting.

Players were told in the recently abandoned Big Bash League fixture in Canberra between Sydney Thunder and Adelaide that umpires were in charge of making a call on visibility and doctors would have the final say on air quality.

Australian spin hopeful Mitchell Swepson featured in hazardous conditions at the SCG earlier this month in a Sheffield Shield match for Queensland, where Stephen O'Keefe likened it to smoking "80 cigarettes", and Usman Khawaja complained of migraines in the days after.

Cricket Australia sent around reminders to staff about working with smoke, with strict protocols put in place to pull players off the field and suspend the action in the Sydney Test - much like during a rain delay if air quality levels reach a certain threshold deemed dangerous by the International Cricket Council.

Moving the Sydney Test would have been a massive logistical exercise - hence the reason why it was raised and then swiftly ruled out a number of weeks in advance as CA moved to ensure all bases were covered.

O’Keefe said it was like smoking 80 cigarettes.
O’Keefe said it was like smoking 80 cigarettes.

With much of the country now burning, it would have been difficult to predetermine with any confidence an alternative venue that would have been safer in any case.

Stars from Australia and New Zealand on Tuesday intimated players were happy to just smile and suck it up - with perspective needed over who the real victims are.

"It's heartbreaking knowing what's going on at the moment. The families it's affecting is the bigger picture to it," said Kiwi star Neil Wagner.

"It's just a Test match.

"Our thoughts are with those families and everyone who is affected with it."

Australia batsman Travis Head reiterated Wagner's sentiments and said players were putting their faith in officials.

"It's not a concern for me, it's more of a concern that it's just a game of cricket and there's a lot more people being worse affected than us," Head said.

"Our thoughts are with them and we'll just play the game as best we can … and we have all confidence in the world in the match officials."

Windy conditions are being forecast for Sydney on Friday. Cricket Australia is maintaining constant vigilance on the ever-changing situation and how it might impact on the Test.

The New Year’s Test will go ahead. Picture: Brett Costello
The New Year’s Test will go ahead. Picture: Brett Costello

As an example of the unpredictability of the unprecedented hazard, News Corp Australia understands that the doctor in charge of the abandoned BBL clash in Canberra wouldn't have even made it to the ground if not for the foresight of cricket officials to put him on a plane at the last minute.

Had he driven as originally planned, he would have been blocked by road closures on the Hume Highway.

"As the safety of players, fans and staff is our number one priority, the guidelines state what needs to be measured and looked for," said a CA statement.

"We will constantly monitor the situation and be prepared on the ground in case of any circumstance, as we know conditions change very quickly in these scenarios.

"At BBL games and international cricket played in areas impacted by bushfires, a discussion and assessment about air quality will be added to the pre-match medical briefing hosted onsite 60 minutes prior to the scheduled match time."