It has cost a bomb, but with COVID and rain circling the cricket is on


History will be made in Hobart today when an Ashes Test begins in Tasmania for the first time, but it has hardly been smooth sailing to this point for the little city known for a big boat race.

A Tasmanian captaining the team, a COVID-free population, a tourism industry desperate for customers, perfect January weather, and the chance for Tasmanians to demonstrably support elite sport were all proffered as reasons to bring cricket's greatest rivalry to Hobart. 

One by one, each argument was whittled away.

Now, Tasmanians immune to the nation's sporting obsession are cursing the event and the $5 million it has cost, while diehards are literally holding their breath in the hope it won't become a test for the health system.

Tim Paine, the former captain, reportedly won't even be in Tasmania when the test is played after sensationally resigning in November.

Tasmanian Tim Paine captaining his country in Hobart's first Ashes Test was just not to be.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Restaurants and live venues have been struggling to find enough COVID-free staff to stay open in the lead-up to the match.

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Rain is forecast (though not much) for each of the first four scheduled days of the match.

And sports lovers now have to contemplate whether watching the game between rain delays on cool to cold nights, when they could just stay home and watch it on TV, is really worth risking COVID for.

Tasmania's Director of Public Health, Dr Mark Veitch, said the risks of disease transmission at the cricket have been mitigated in several ways.

"When you go to Bellerive, you're going to an outdoor stadium," he said. "You're almost certain to be vaccinated. You're mostly sitting down and you'll have a mask on.

"We determined earlier on that is acceptably safe arrangements to run the test match."

While the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne has had crowd capacity cut to 50 per cent, no further restrictions will be applied to Bellerive.

Health authorities say the measures in place at Bellerive will make it "acceptably safe".(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Dr Veitch said the circumstances of every venue and event were different and he described Bellerive Oval as particularly open and airy when compared to Melbourne Park.

"They're different sized ovals, different configurations," he said.

Hobart was selected to host the fifth and final Ashes Test as an 11th hour replacement for Perth, due to logistical issues trying to get the players past WA's strict border controls.

Tasmania had almost identical restrictions to WA before the state's border gates were opened on December 15.

A month later, Tasmania is dealing with more than a thousand cases of COVID-19 per day, with 8,000 active cases in the state.

Australia's Travis Head practices short leg fielding at Bellerive.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

While much smaller Tasmanian events continue to be cancelled left, right and centre – the sold-out test with up to 14,000 spectators will go on.

Poor crowds have been a distraction at Hobart's previous test matches played in November and December.

January should be the perfect month for cricket in Hobart.

The city has the second lowest average rainfall of any Australian capital city in January, but the broadcaster's insistence the match should be played at night could backfire.

Watching sport in Hobart is more comfortable during the day than at night, and there appears to be a far greater chance of weather delays affecting the match because it will be played under lights.

Stuart Broad and his English teammates loosen up at training in Hobart.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

The Bureau of Meteorology's forecast for the next three days is "Friday, very high chance of showers  … most likely in the late afternoon and evening".

"Saturday, medium chance of showers in the afternoon and evening. The chance of a thunderstorm in the afternoon and evening."

"Sunday, medium chance of showers, most likely in the afternoon and evening."

There would be a much reduced chance of rain affecting the match this weekend if it wasn't a day/night fixture.

Local spectators will be need to be armed with hats and sunscreen by day and puffer coats by night.

On the plus side for England, the weather might remind the team of home.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Perhaps the broadcasters are onto something — with a forecast like this the match might last into a fourth day despite the very green-looking pitch.

After years of naysayers (falsely) decrying poor sporting crowds for North Melbourne v Gold Coast Suns and Hawthorn v Fremantle AFL games, Tasmanians can rightly feel aggrieved that Hobart's crowds for highly anticipated event could be adversely affected by circumstances beyond our control.

Many ticket holders, not otherwise deterred by the prospect of rain and a large crowd in a pandemic, will be forced to stay home regardless. 

They are either amongst the thousands of people in Tasmania who already have COVID-19 or have been deemed close contacts. 

The ABC understands not even board members at Cricket Tasmania are immune and will be forced to sit out the biggest weekend in the organisation's history. 

Meanwhile, those in Perth this week might wryly contemplate an empty 50,000 seat stadium and only a handful of COVID-19 infections.

COVID-free cities hosting sporting events was so 2020.

The series has been a triumph for Pat Cummins and his Australian team mates.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

One thing is certain – regardless of how many spectators brave the elements (and their fellow spectators), this will be the biggest sporting event ever held in Tasmania.

"This is the holy grail of cricket," said Premier Peter Gutwein.

"For almost eight hours a day, in every cricket-loving nation across the world, Tasmania is going to be front and centre."

Let's hope the match is long remembered for being a super contest – and not a super spreader.

Want more Tasmanian news?

Set the ABC News website or the app to 'Tasmania Top Stories' from either the homepage or the settings menu in the app to continue getting the same national news but with a sprinkle of more relevant state stories.

Here's a taste of the latest stories from Tasmania:

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news




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