It would not be this cricket season without Covid-19 making a late reappearance. After the WNCL final was briefly caught up in the fallout of the new community outbreak in Brisbane, the last rounds of the Marsh Cup and Sheffield Shield, with finals berths up for grabs, will now try and avoid the ramifications.
So far the impact has been mitigated with Queensland flying to Sydney ahead of schedule on Monday before Greater Brisbane went into a three-day snap lockdown to try and get on top of the cluster after four new cases were confirmed on Monday.
The New South Wales government has said that anyone arriving from Brisbane will need to abide by the same lockdown conditions. However the Queensland squad, which faces New South Wales in the Marsh Cup on Wednesday and then the Sheffield Shield from Saturday, will be able to train and play in a similar scenario to the one that enabled Victoria to travel to Sydney during that state’s February lockdown.
The winner of the Marsh Cup game at North Sydney Oval will earn hosting rights for the final on April 11 although ESPNcricinfo understands that if Queensland win there will not be an immediate decision on the venue while the impact of Covid situation is monitored.
On Friday, the Queensland WNCL squad had to undergo late-night Covid tests when the first case of community transmission was announced in Brisbane. They all came back negative in time for the final on Saturday.
South Australia, who play Victoria in Melbourne in their final matches of the season, may be affected by the situation having recently completed a stay in Brisbane with the Victoria government having now declared the city a “red zone”. It is understood that all the teams who have recently been in Queensland have undergone regular testing.
Qualification and hosting rights for the Sheffield Shield final are also up for grabs in the final round matches which start on Saturday with a three-horse race between Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia – the latter who face Tasmania in Perth.
Both Queensland and New South Wales have been able to make significant inclusions in their squads: Steven Smith will play the one-day game for the Blues, having recovered from an elbow injury, while legspinner Mitchell Swepson is available for Queensland in the Shield.
It will be Smith’s first match since mid-February and his last of the season – he will jump on a plane to India the next day along with the rest of the IPL-bound Australia players.
Pat Cummins, the New South Wales one-day captain, is among those names along with David Warner, Moises Henriques, Josh Hazlewood and Daniel Sams who has been recalled in place of the injured Sean Abbott.
“The way we look at it is it’s always a bonus when we have the Aussie guys back in the group but the fact they are going [to the IPL] means we may get the chance to give other guys the opportunity to step up,” New South Wales coach Phil Jaques said.
“First port of call though is to make the final and to do that we need to try and win on Wednesday. Then we can prepare for a final which will be an exciting opportunity.”
Swepson, meanwhile, has recovered from the stress fracture of the C6 vertebrae in his neck which has sidelined him since the end of the BBL and had been expected to keep him out for the season.
In the first part of the Sheffield Shield he took 23 wickets in three matches including three five-wicket hauls. He was then recalled to the Australia side for the T20I series against India, was part of the Test bubble without playing and was included for the postponed South Africa tour shortly before his injury was confirmed.
Queensland Marsh Cup squad Usman Khawaja (capt), Xavier Bartlett, James Bazley, Max Bryant, Joe Burns, Brendan Doggett, Matthew Kuhnemann, Marnus Labuschagne, Michael Neser, Jimmy Peirson, Matthew Renshaw, Billy Stanlake
Queensland Sheffield Shield squad Usman Khawaja (capt), Xavier Bartlett, Joe Burns, Brendan Doggett, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan McSweeney, Michael Neser, Jimmy Peirson, Matthew Renshaw, Billy Stanlake, Bryce Street, Mitchell Sweeps
New South Wales Marsh Cup squad Pat Cummins (capt), Oliver Davies, Ben Dwarshuis, Matthew Gilkes, Josh Hazlewood, Moises Henriques, Daniel Hughes, Nathan Lyon, Kurtis Patterson, Daniel Sams, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo