LIGHTS are coming to Manuka Oval, so is the Australian cricket team in 2013. Next on Canberra's wish list is James Hird's Essendon Bombers and the ACT's own Big Bash League cricket franchise.
In what will be regarded as a landmark day for Canberra sport, Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday confirmed federal funding to install broadcast-quality lighting at Manuka Oval.
The $2.5 million federal contribution, to be matched by the ACT government, will give Manuka Oval the capability to host major sporting events including day-night cricket internationals and prime-time AFL games.
ACT Sports Minister Andrew Barr has already initiated grand plans. He revealed the board of Cricket Australia had confirmed this week the national team would play two limited-over internationals at Manuka next year.
As revealed in The Canberra Times, the ACT government had been negotiating to host a stand-alone series against New Zealand in twilight cricket matches at Manuka in April 2013.
But if installation of the lighting at Manuka can be fast-tracked, the games may be delayed until the start of the regular 2013-14 cricket summer so they can be played under lights.
''Cricket Australia had their board meeting during the week and have indicated that support [to bring the Australian team to Canberra in 2013]; we now get into the nitty-gritty of the actual scheduling of matches,'' Barr said.
Barr also revealed yesterday the ACT government had begun lobbying the AFL to schedule a marquee GWS Giants match against the Essendon Bombers next year, as part of Canberra's centenary celebrations.
The blockbuster match would see Hird - a former Canberra junior, AFL premiership-winner and Brownlow medallist - coach against his mentor Kevin Sheedy.
''We're certainly putting that on the table with the AFL and Kevin Sheedy's been very supportive of that idea, I think he'd love to go head-to-head with his old charge, especially with James Hird having such strong connections to Canberra,'' Barr said. ''I think there is a case in the centenary year for that game to be played here in Canberra.''
AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou attended the Giants' first premiership match at Manuka with Prime Minister Gillard yesterday. Asked if bringing the Bombers to Canberra was achievable next year, Demetriou said: ''Anything's possible.''
''[Lighting] makes a big difference because it gives us more flexibility with our scheduling and fixturing. Not having a ground with lights limits the times you can play and the dates, so it's a real plus.''
ACT Cricket welcomed the announcement and will meet Sydney Big Bash League teams - the Sydney Sixers and Sydney Thunder - in the next fortnight to discuss the potential of bringing exhibition games to Manuka.
It would be the first step in Canberra's campaign for its own Big Bash League franchise in the domestic Twenty20 competition.
''We hope there'll be a reallocation of an additional two more [BBL] teams in a couple of years time and we would certainly like to be one of those teams,'' ACT Cricket chairman Ian McNamee said.
''Lighting opens up many more opportunities for ACT Cricket. It will change the whole scene as far as cricket in Canberra is concerned as well as being a benefit for the AFL.''
Barr predicted it would likely be the 2013-14 financial year before the lights were installed. The ACT government is looking at five to six lights' towers, resembling those used at English cricket venue Trent Bridge.
Barr said long-term plans for Manuka Oval over the next six to seven years included extra covered seating, redevelopment of stands, additional corporate facilities and providing infrastructure such as parking and walkways to better link it with the Manuka and Kingston precincts.
''The idea is to return the oval to people and not have it be a lockout like it is now,'' Barr said. ''When you look around the country at these sorts of upgrades and where they've been most effective, it's when you look at the precinct not just the footprint of the oval.''