How long can a friendly, feel-good vibe exist when India and Australia play a series? It has been an unusually amiable tour so far, but with the series level at 1-1 and heading into the third Test in Sydney, the cracks have begun to show.
“I think it’s boiling away, some stuff is starting to happen,” Australian captain Tim Paine told reporters on the eve of the SCG Test.
It’s easy to appreciate the reason for the “boiling away”—bio-bubble fatigue.
Captains of both the teams spoke at length about quarantine complications and the resulting confusion, a day before the Test.
Ajinkya Rahane, centurion of the second Test and India captain, pointed at the challenges of living in quarantine while life outside the Indian team hotel is “normal”.
“We know outside life in Sydney is completely normal but our players are in quarantine. They are stuck in their rooms. That’s the challenge. We have to face it. We know how to handle it. We are prepared to face any kind of situation. As players we are not complaining. We are focussing on tomorrow’s game,” Rahane said.
It all started with five Indian players being placed in isolation after dining indoors at a Melbourne restaurant post the second Test in breach of the bio-bubble rules. It has now emerged a spectator attending the Test at Melbourne has tested Covid-19 positive. Victoria’s health authorities said “there is potential he acquired the virus while” at the MCG or at a nearby shopping centre. An estimated 8,000 spectators are now part of a tracing and testing exercise.
That Indian team arrived in Sydney from Melbourne on Monday. They are not allowed to go outside the hotel except during training or for the match. There have been reports of the Indian team not willing to go to Brisbane for the fourth Test, with strict quarantine rules in place.
“We are not at all annoyed. We know what our priority is, play good cricket. The BCCI and team management will take the decision (on the Brisbane Test),” Rahane said.
With all the speculation that is emerging from the Indian camp regarding their reluctance to move to Brisbane, Paine hinted that it might spark a bit more banter among the players.
“It will be fascinating not just from cricketing point of view but also the tension boiling under the surface with lot of unnamed sources coming out from their camp as to where they are going to play their fourth Test, where they don’t want to go. So let’s see how it goes,” Paine said.
Paine, who became the captain in 2018 when Steve Smith was serving a ball-tampering ban, went to the extent of pointing at the BCCI’s “power” in world cricket.
“No frustration, but a bit of uncertainty because when you hear things like that (abandoning or shifting the fourth Test) coming particularly from India, which holds a lot of power in world cricket, it’s likely that it could happen,” Paine said.
“For us, we just want to be clear on this Test match, we know the protocols and we know what’s expected of us, we will focus on that this week and then whatever happens next week happens and we will adapt to it. We are not too fussed as to where the Test is being played and we couldn’t care less if you rang up and said that it’s in Mumbai.”
India have not won a match at the Gabba in Brisbane in six appearances. In the last two decades, India have played there only twice, in 2003 and 2014. Australia have won all seven matches played at the ground since 2013.
“There has been a little bit of talk about Brisbane and that’s pretty much because at the Gabba, Australia haven’t lost for a long, long time,” former Australia fast bowler Glenn McGrath said, on the sidelines of promoting the “Pink Test” at the SCG, an initiative to raise breast cancer awareness that he spearheads. “It’s a strong ground for Australia and they have been very dominant. India haven’t been to Brisbane for a long time. To be honest, I was a little surprised to find that it was in the schedule. But I guess with Covid and lockdown, there were not too many other possibilities.”