Players wary of strict lockdown but top official says team will travel to Queensland for final Test.

The Brisbane Test, the fourth and final of the series, will be played as per schedule, from January 15. Indian cricketers are not keen to travel unless strict restrictions on their movement because of the Covid-19 outbreak are eased in Queensland.

As far as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is concerned, there’s no discussion on a change of itinerary as yet, a top official told The Indian Express on Sunday.

“The team will travel to Brisbane. We will have to follow rules. We may discuss allowing a little more freedom for the players, but it all depends on what local authorities decide finally,” the official confirmed.

The major concern for the players is that in Brisbane, they will be allowed to leave their hotel rooms only for a match or training. They won’t even be able to move around in the hotel at other times.

The visiting Indian cricket team is wary of going to Brisbane, as they don’t want to be subjected to a much stricter quarantine protocol imposed by the Queensland government than they have encountered at other cities around Australia.

Most players in the touring party have been in some form of quarantine or bio-bubble for about six months, which came after a nationwide lockdown and curbs on movement for almost three months. They are not keen on more strict restrictions, especially as they underwent 14 days of isolation on their arrival in the country.

“Each city in Australia has its own quarantine rules. In Sydney, the team has been granted permission to go to designated areas in the hotel after training. In Brisbane, however, the rules are much more stringent as players will be restricted to their hotel rooms when not training or playing. This is something they’re not comfortable with since this team has already completed the mandatory period in isolation upon landing in Australia,” a source said.

“BCCI is currently negotiating with Cricket Australia to come to an agreement regarding the nature of quarantine that needs to be put in place,” the source said.

Bubble to bubble

Starting several weeks before the Indian Premier League, held in September-November in the United Arab Emirates, most members of the Indian squad have had precious few opportunities to freely move around outdoors due to the measures put in place to prevent coronavirus infections. There’s a fear that confining them to their respective hotel rooms for lengthy periods again will only drain them mentally.

After their arrival in Australia on November 12, and undergoing the mandatory isolation period, the Indians have enjoyed relatively more freedom with regards to their movement, even as they moved to Adelaide, Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne to play international and tour games.

Ironically, when five players – Rohit Sharma (joining the squad after 14 days of hard quarantine), Rishabh Pant, Shubman Gill, Prithvi Shaw and Navdeep Saini – did step out in Melbourne on New Year’s Day, it resulted in a controversy as a fan tweeted suggesting they were at an indoor restaurant and not wearing masks.

He also claimed that Pant “hugged” him, though that bit has been retracted since. It has resulted in the five cricketers being placed in isolation as a precaution. On Monday, both squads will fly to Sydney, the venue for the third Test, which begins on Thursday. Cricket Australia had decided not to move the match from this city despite a spurt in Covid-19 cases.

Contrasting conditions

Meanwhile, Australia batsman Mathew Wade said he expected the Gabba Test to be staged as per schedule, despite the Indians’ concerns.

“There’s a lot of talk out there but for us as a group and my position personally, we’ll go to Sydney and play at the SCG and then we’ll go to Brisbane and play at the Gabba,” he said during a virtual press conference. “Until the powers that be knock on the door and tell us that that’s going to change, we just roll onto the next game.”

Australia’s eagerness to play at the Gabba is understandable. It is the traditional venue for the first Test of the international summer Down Under and sets the stage for the series. The pitch there offers decent carry and movement for the quicker bowlers, and should be to the Aussie pacers’ liking. India has played six Tests there and other than the draw in 2003-04, suffered losses on every occasion. It is an Australian fortress in every sense of the word.

The last time the home team lost a Brisbane Test was in November 1988 to the Vivian Richards-led West Indies.

The Sydney Cricket Ground is traditionally the most spin-friendly of the major Australian Test venues.

With Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav out injured, India’s pace arsenal is short on experience. Consequently, the team management may just be tempted to unleash chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav, along with the two incumbent spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. Playing successive matches at the SCG, with three quality spinners operating, could provide India the recipe to whip up another series win in Australia. Wade did not mince words when he said: “There’s no secret we like starting the summer there for that exact reason. Our record is very good and we tend to play good cricket at the Gabba. Two games back-to-back at the SCG would obviously not be something that we would want to do.”

Inputs: Devendra Pandey

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