Boxing Day Ashes Test could see 80,000 crowd

By: AFP      Published: 12:27 PM, 24 Oct, 2021
Boxing Day Ashes Test could see 80,000 crowd
File photo.

Australia's Boxing Day Test against England could have a crowd of more 80,000, a senior official said Sunday as Melbourne emerges from one of the world's most prolonged series of Covid lockdowns.

How many spectators, if any, would be allowed into the cavernous Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) for the third Ashes Test has long been up in the air.

But with the nation's second-biggest city re-opening on Friday after more than 260 days under lockdown since the pandemic began, Victoria state Premier Dan Andrews was hopeful it will be jam-packed.

"I want to see 80,000-plus people at the Boxing Day Test on day one, that's what I want to see," he told reporters in flagging a further planned easing of Covid restrictions.

"We are determined to deliver that. It won't be easy. I think selling the tickets will be pretty easy. But we are very confident that we will be able to deliver that."

The crowd for last summer's Boxing Day Test against India was capped at 30,000 per day due to the pandemic.

The five-Test Ashes series will start in Brisbane on December 8 before moving to Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and ending in Perth.

Cricket Australia said in July that venues would be sold to full capacity, except the 100,000-seat MCG, given the city's battle against Covid-19.

Victoria state, in which Melbourne is situated, recorded almost 2,000 new cases and a further 11 deaths in the past 24 hours, but it is rapidly nearing an 80 percent vaccination rate when more freedoms have been promised.

Andrews' comments will encourage not only cricket fans but Australian Open organisers, with the first tennis Grand Slam of 2022 due to start on January 17 at Melbourne Park.

The tournament was hit hard this year with limited crowds and a five-day snap lockdown called mid-event.

But whether a full contingent of tennis stars will make the trip to Melbourne remains to be seen.

Last week Andrews warned that unvaccinated players were unlikely to get visas, throwing defending champion Novak Djokovic's participation into serious doubt.

The world number one has publicly voiced opposition to vaccines and refused to say whether he has been jabbed against coronavirus.

Langer says he has player support

Embattled Australia coach Justin Langer insisted Sunday he has the full support of his players and reiterated a desire to extend his contract after the Ashes against England.

The former opener took over in the aftermath of the notorious "Sandpaper-gate" ball-tampering tour of South Africa in 2018 and was widely praised for rebuilding the culture of Australian cricket.

But dressing-room unrest was never been far away and he was forced to address negative feedback over his management style this year, which culminated in crisis talks with senior players and executives.

In an interview with the Sydney Daily Telegraph, Langer said: "Yeah, I do" when asked if he now had the full support of his players.

"It's been an incredibly humbling experience," he added. 

"My experience in life is that often in the most humbling periods are the best periods for learning and growing and that's certainly the case for me and I'm sure you can feel it already within the team."

He characterised the talks with Test captain Tim Paine, limited overs skipper Aaron Finch and their deputy Pat Cummins as "the best conversations I've had with players in my 10 years as a coach". 

"They were honest, they were open and I really respect and admire the guys for that. It's actually led to a greater level of trust believe it or not."

They resulted in Langer handing over more responsibility to senior players and coaches, a move he called "liberating". 

"I'm enjoying it and I'm sure we and they will get great benefit out of that as we keep moving forward."

Langer is currently with the team in Abu Dhabi at the Twenty20 World Cup, where Australia defeated South Africa by five wickets in a tense opener to their campaign on Saturday.

Once the tournament is over, they head back to Australia for a five-Test series against England, with Langer's fate in the balance after that.

He is contracted until mid-2022 and Cricket Australia chief Nick Hockley has said he won't be considering Langer's future until after the summer.

"I've said publicly before that I would," Langer said of wanting to extend his contract.

"We are incredibly well organised for this (World Cup) campaign and then we get straight into the Ashes. I'm going to put all my attention into that and then we'll see what happens after that."

Despite the intense scrutiny in recent months over his "headmaster-like" leadership, Langer insisted he never considered quitting.

"When you go through hard times you have two choices: either quit or you get better," he said. 

"And hopefully in everything I've done in my life I haven't ever taken the first option."