One of the six field lights was put up today. Photo: Melissa Adams
The biggest change in the 83-year history of Canberra's iconic cricket and Australian rules football ground is underway, with the first of six light towers erected at Manuka Oval on Thursday.
The $5.347 million project - with $2.5 million contributed from the federal government and the rest from its ACT counterparts - is on track to be unveiled nationally for next year's Prime Minister's XI one-day cricket match against the West Indies on January 29.
The next two 47m tall towers will be in place this weekend and two more will go up before Christmas.
Construction will be completed early in the New Year in time for the Prime Minister's XI match and the inaugural visit of the Australian cricket team for a one-day international with the Windies on February 6.
A total of 564 lights will be individually tested before the switch is flicked on the newest addition to the iconic ground, which has hosted local, national and international sport since 1929.
"Obviously this is an important milestone in the project," ACT Sports Minister Andrew Barr said on Thursday.
"This kicked off back in April, so to get to this stage, to have the towers manufactured in the UK, shipped over and then for the first one going up today is a tribute to everyone who's worked on this project.
"Assuming a successful stand-up today, they'll be two more towers tomorrow and Saturday, a further two prior to Christmas and the final tower will go up early in the new year.
"Each tower has close to 100 lights, each one has to be aimed at a point on the ground, so there's a target exercise for all of those lights which I understand will take a day for each tower.
"That's another week of work, then we'll get the chance to turn them on and test them.
"I know there's a number of ACT cricketers very eager to volunteer to have a hit in the middle with the lights on, so we'll have a couple of weeks to test them prior to the PM's XI match on the 29th of January."
Barr said both marquee cricket fixtures would likely attract sell-out crowds as Canberra fans turn out in droves to catch one last glimpse of retiring great Ricky Ponting, who will captain the Prime Minister's XI.
There is also a push for Queanbeyan product and former Australian wicketkeeper Brad Haddin to join Ponting in the Tasmanian's international swansong.
Night-time AFL will make its debut in Canberra once the summer is complete.
The Greater Western Sydney Giants will host the Essendon Bombers under lights on Friday, March 8 in a pre-season NAB Cup fixture.
However, the ACT government's preference is for night games to be limited to early in the season to avoid the chilly Winter conditions and maximising attendances.
Barr said the next stage of upgrading Manuka Oval would include replacing the playing surface and adding an additional 1800 seats to the capacity.