Brisbane’s inferior facilities may yet see it hosting Afghanistan under lights in the first Test match of next summer, before the better-equipped venues in Adelaide and Perth claim the first two of four matches against India who are expected to be open to a day-night fixture for the very first time.
Cricket Australia’s negotiations with the BCCI for next season’s Test fixtures will be aided by the fact that India will have finally played day-night matches by then, starting with a Test against Bangladesh in Kolkata on Friday.
However as the Indian board’s administration makes numerous moves back towards more traditionally bullish postures – under the new presidency of Sourav Ganguly – there will be the question of how many concessions the BCCI will make to CA’s tour schedule preferences, which will include at least one day-night Test.
The Test team will be eager for the advantage of hosting India at the Gabba, where they have been unbeaten against all comers since 1988, but this must be balanced with India’s desires and also the fact that Adelaide Oval and Perth Stadium are a long way ahead of Brisbane in terms of amenities, likely crowds and capacity. Roberts admitted to the possibility of the Gabba hosting Afghanistan for the first Test of summer before the India matches are played elsewhere.
“If the Test summer proper did start that way, it’s a possibility, but there’s a lot to work through,” Roberts told SEN Radio. “We don’t have any preconceived ideas on that, we’re in the middle of executing the season, making sure we can deliver a really good experience to fans at the ground and through our broadcasters, and then we’ll get on to planning next season. We’re really keen on making sure we can learn from each season before we approach the next one.
“From a playing perspective there’s no doubt there’s a very strong case for the Gabba to host the opening Test from a playing perspective, and that’s consistent with the comments from Shane Warne and Michael Vaughan and others. There’s a number of other perspectives though, we’ve seen governments around the country invest significantly in venues – a new stadium in Perth, the government’s invested upwards of a billion dollars in that, and that adds another dimension.
“So you’ve got to consider the fan perspective, the players’ perspective, government perspectives, and that’s the beauty and complexity of sport, everyone has a piece of it, and it’s never simple to balance things across all of those different groups.”
The Gabba has long drawn complaints about both its issues of accessibility – being surrounded on two sides by two of Brisbane’s major arterial roads – and also the lack of ambience within a concrete bowl suited far better to football than cricket.
An investment of some A$35 million has been pledged by the Queensland state government to improve these areas in concert with the construction of a cross-river rail service linking the Gabba to the Brisbane CBD, though this is not expected to be completed before 2024. In a five-Test Ashes series, the Gabba is guaranteed the first match, but India’s preference for four matches makes things somewhat more complex for CA.
“That $35 million will go basically into better amenities for the fans and it all leads towards the cross-river rail opening in about 2024, so a very different experience for fans not only getting to the match but a better experience of the facilities,” Roberts said. “So more contemporary spaces for fans to mingle rather than just coming along and sitting in a seat as you might’ve done 10 years ago.”
Either way, the prospect of a day-night Test against India is growing by the day. “There’s no question day-night Test cricket needs to play a stronger role in the Test landscape going forward,” Roberts said. “We’re having productive conversations with India about the prospect of us playing day-night tests against each other in the future. Let’s hope this week’s experience in Kolkata is a really powerful one for them and a good experience that gives them more confidence about more day-night Test cricket to keep going forward.”