The ACT Government spent more than $11 million on the Manuka Oval media centre to make the venue viable for international cricket. That investment should again reap dividends this summer after Perth’s hit-wicket dismissal from its Ashes Test date in January.
It was good to see the government officially putting in its pitch for the Fifth Test against England from 14 to 18 January, and it should be able to mount a powerful case for the match to be relocated here instead of the other candidate, Hobart, or God-forbid, giving Sydney or Melbourne another crack.
As a venue, Manuka lives up to the reputation of being a boutique and picturesque ground. It even has a cathedral end.
The oval dimensions make for good cricket, with the expansive space testing batsmen who want to take a maximum toll on bowlers and giving bowlers a chance against such risk-takers.
The pitch is no longer a road, and preparation in recent times has offered something for both the bat and ball.
From a spectator’s point of view, it is an intimate experience with terrific vantage points around the ground.
It has already proved itself as a big cricket venue, having hosted a Test match, one-day internationals and Big Bash matches. And at the end of January, the Australian and England women’s teams will play a Test match there.
Hobart’s Bellerive also offers a scenic location, but its pitch is traditionally lifeless, and the fact is the ground rarely attracts the kind of crowd across the five days that justify an Ashes Test, no matter how much Tasmania Premier Peter Gutwein talks up how it would augment the island’s unique tourism offering.
The national capital offers a city of informed and cashed-up sports lovers who, together with cricket tourists from Sydney and other centres, would fill Manuka for most of the match.
By mid-January, the unseasonal wet weather should have calmed down to a drier and warmer pattern that would deliver enough playing time for a result.
The same could not be said for Hobart, which is more likely to be a riskier proposition with the odd cold front still blowing through.
The clincher would have to be the ongoing uncertainty of the COVID-19 environment which, especially with the emergence of the Omicron variant, casts a shadow over travel arrangements and people’s perceived safety.
Canberra is central, easily accessible, with excellent hotels and is probably the safest city in the world with a 98 per cent vaccination rate.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr has been a cautious guardian of the capital, but Canberra will stay an open city with that kind of protection.
There is no guarantee that Mr Gutwein would do the same.
Cricket Australia should reward Canberra for its investment in Manuka, play safe with both the Australian and English players, and secure a venue that will be a safe bet and deliver a reasonable return.
If it does, an Ashes Test could be a breakthrough experience for Manuka and prompt even more investment in the ground and more top sport.
The big spend on the media centre copped plenty of criticism when it was proposed, but whichever way Cricket Australia swings, it’s looking like a good investment.