Australia’s touring T20 cricketers have one task this week: win three clashes with New Zealand to rescue a series victory.
But thanks to a fresh COVID lockdown in Auckland, Cricket Australia (CA) support staff have plenty more to do, re-arranging the tour and plotting a safe escape route home.
The decision by Jacinda Ardern’s government to return New Zealand’s biggest city to lockdown has cancelled Australia’s planned return to Eden Park on Friday.
In 2018, Aaron Finch’s side produced a world-record chase of 245 to beat the Black Caps on their home pitch in front of 33,000 frenzied fans.
Sadly, Australia’s return to Eden Park will have to wait.
COVID restrictions mean Australia will now stay in Wellington for games three and four on Wednesday and Friday, playing at an empty Sky Stadium.
As the government’s restrictions are scheduled to last seven days, at this stage game five – a potential series decider – in Tauranga is unaffected, but crowds will be reliant on a return to level one.
The lack of crowds will hit New Zealand Cricket (NZC) financially, with around 40,000 fans to be refunded for the Eden Park and Sky Stadium clashes.
Last year, similar cancellations on New Zealand’s visit to Australia produced a seven-figure hit to CA’s bottom line.
The biggest headache for CA remains getting the touring party home.
Australian players, who spent two weeks in a Christchurch hotel to play the series, are desperate to avoid a second quarantine on the way home.
But as it stands, that’s what they’ll be forced to do.
The new outbreak has prompted eastern Australian states to remove Auckland from its green zone travel list.
As players are due to fly home from Auckland next Monday, they will need to quarantine on arrival – unless a new route or an exemption can be agreed.
As revealed by AAP on Saturday, players were considering a boycott of that Eden Park match if it meant heading into a “red zone” that would see them quarantine for a second fortnight.
The new outbreak has removed that possibility – but not the problem which CA staff are working to fix.
After losses in Christchurch and Dunedin, Australia is 2-0 down and must win all three games to claim the series.
AUSTRALIA v NEW ZEALAND T20 SERIES
Game one – February 22, Christchurch – New Zealand def Australia by 53 runs
Game two – February 25, Dunedin – New Zealand def Australia by 4 runs
Game three – March 3, Wellington*
Game four – March 5, Wellington*
Game five – March 7, Tauranga
* Wellington matches to be played behind closed doors