Having hoped that the 2020-21 Australian cricket season would escape the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, it now looks likely the summer will be significantly impacted as a second wave hits Melbourne with concerns also hanging over New South Wales leading to extensive border and travel restrictions around the country. A lot remains up in the air with the season less than two months away, but these are some of the key issues that need to be resolved.
This remains the crucial part of Australia's season with A$300 million - the financial health of the game - riding on it taking place. The chances of a traditional Test series across four venues appears to be receding with the Boxing Day Test at the MCG looking under threat. To ease the biosecurity protocols that will be needed - and state-by-state requirements to quarantine - it could be that the matches are staged in fewer locations while there is likely to be consideration given to what size crowds are allowed. Fans have returned to stadiums for winter codes in Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales amid various restrictions on capacity.
The Adelaide Oval will have its on-site hotel completed by October and has already been talked of as a training hub while Perth, who missed on hosting India in the initial fixture list, may yet be part of the series. Following the Tests there is a three-match ODI series pencilled in for mid-January which currently has games in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.
The India Women's team is also due to tour in January for three ODIs which are due to act as a lead-in to the ODI World Cup in February.
The international fixtures that had been scheduled early in the season have steadily dropped away with series against Zimbabwe and West Indies postponed. The T20Is against India scheduled for mid-October also won't take place now the T20 World Cup has been moved and the IPL has its window. The next big question for CA is the one-off Test against Afghanistan slated for Perth on November 21 which they remain committed to staging.
However, the time frame created by the IPL and the need for players to quarantine for two weeks on return to Australia is very tight, especially for anyone featuring in the closing stages of the competition, unless those in contention for the Test from both sides leave the UAE early to allow 14 days in Perth ahead of the match. Even if that was possible there would need to be exemptions granted to allow players to train although with hotels very close to the grounds this could be feasible.
In some ways, this is the biggest headache for Cricket Australia given the logistical challenges of competitions that are vital to the game's ecosystem but do not generate revenue. Particularly problematic is how to formulate a Sheffield Shield - the ten-game season and final can't be cut back without agreement with the Australian Cricketers' Association as it's part of the MoU - amid travel and border restrictions.
The hub concept is tougher and much costlier for a first-class competition but a whole range of scenarios remain on the table. A News Corp report said starting the tournament earlier and rushing through a set of matches ahead of the Test summer was one idea, to ensure players had a chance to prepare or push for selection, while at the other end there is the possibility of limited Shield cricket before Christmas with the season then back-filled after the BBL.
The men's and women's one-day competitions - the Marsh Cup and WNCL - would appear vulnerable at the moment although players have made it clear they are open to the idea of hubs. The WNCL is especially important this year if the Women's ODI World Cup goes ahead as played next February and March in New Zealand.
This will be the first of the marquee competitions to be staged in the season with the tournament due to begin on October 17 but is likely to need some reorganisation. When the fixtures were announced, the competition had already headed towards a hub model with a three-week block of matches in Sydney, and weekend blocks of matches elsewhere, but with New South Wales at a crucial stage of trying to limit their Covid-19 numbers - and significant restrictions around travel into the state - it could be that Queensland or Western Australia become the major centres with Tasmania also putting their hat in the ring to host a hub.
There remains confidence that the overseas players will be able to take up their deals as planned although a potential curveball has been thrown by the BCCI's announcement of the T20 Challenge in early November which came in for strong criticism from a number of players led by Alyssa Healy.
There is a little more time up Cricket Australia's sleeve for the Big Bash, but with the tenth edition to be the longest tournament - running from early December to early February - it could be hugely demanding if Covid-19 restrictions remain. Unlike the WBBL, the initial fixtures featured the full home-and-away model which involves regular travel and, even in the extended tournament, quick turnarounds between matches which would not be possible under the current quarantine requirements imposed by the various states.
The need to hub the competition will have to be considered as well as the flexibility to change mid-tournament if Covid-19 cases spike in a state. If there arises a need to reschedule or move matches in the BBL, it will add another layer of complexity given it runs concurrently with the major part of the men's international season.