Sport

Dean Jones urges Manuka to consider a drop-in pitch for Big Bash and Tests

Australian cricket great Dean Jones has urged officials to introduce a drop-in pitch at Manuka Oval to boost its chances of hosting Tests and Twenty20 fixtures, adding the prospect of luring the Big Bash League to Canberra could hinge on venue capacity.

The ACT government faces a funding decision for cricket in the capital in the coming months as it continues a push for a historic first Test in Canberra as well as potential involvement in the rapidly growing Big Bash.

Sellout: The crowd at Manuka for the Big Bash game between Sydney Sixers and Perth Scorchers.
Sellout: The crowd at Manuka for the Big Bash game between Sydney Sixers and Perth Scorchers. Photo: Melissa Adams

It remains unclear whether hosting a Test would limit the financial ability to entice a Big Bash fixture to Manuka Oval.

But Sydney Thunder boss Nick Cummins insists the formats can co-exist in the capital and that Cricket ACT and the government won't have to sacrifice one for the other.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr. Photo: Graham Tidy

Tests crowds dwindled this summer while the Big Bash experienced unprecedented popularity, including more than 80,000 fans at a Melbourne match earlier this month.

Canberra has been floated as an expansion target as Cricket Australia investigates extending the season and taking games into growth areas.

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Cummins confirmed the Thunder were keen to work with officials to have a presence in Canberra, while Manuka Oval could replace Hobart or Perth on the Test calendar in the 2016-17 summer.

Canberra hosted the Big Bash final at the start of 2015, with the Perth Scorchers beating the Sydney Sixers in front of a sell-out crowd.

However, Jones feared the 11,000 capacity at Manuka Oval for cricket could count against it.

"The size of the ground is Canberra's Achilles' heel, because the Big Bash can attract 40,000-50,000 fans or even more to games," Jones said.

"Until Canberra gets a venue that can hold 20,000, it will be tough to get Big Bash games. The competition is growing exponentially ... 14,000 at Canberra, with respect, might not be enough.

"It's a commercial business and if [the ACT government puts in money] it could be an option."

Jones said his only concern was how many fans could pack into Manuka Oval and the ability to produce a Test-match quality pitch.

Manuka is traditionally known as a batsman's paradise, and any move to change to a drop-in pitch would require significant funding and a major makeover at the ground.

"I think there needs to be a drop-in pitch in Canberra because it has a tendency to be low and slow because it's used through winter for football as well. It needs to have a bit more life in it."

The ACT government has a deal with Cricket Australia to host either a one-day international or Twenty20 international every year until 2019.

Tickets are almost sold out for the Australia-India ODI fixture at Manuka Oval on January 20.

Cricket Australia has put on the backburner the option to increase the number of teams in the Big Bash for at least a few years, meaning a stand-alone Canberra team is still years away.

But the Thunder is keen to work to have a presence in Canberra, including playing either trial matches and regular-season fixtures at Manuka Oval.

The Big Bash has captured the Australian public's attention this season, filling stadiums and dominating cricket news as the Test series' against New Zealand and the West Indies struggled for attention.

The average crowds at Thunder home matches is up almost 25 per cent compared to last season and Cummins said: "Test cricket and the Big Bash connect with different sectors of the market.

"The Big Bash connects with the next generation of fans and if there's a Big Bash presence in Canberra, it will turbo-charge some of the other events, like the Prime Minister's XI.

"I would encourage the ACT government to go for both because you speak to the massive cricket fans through Test matches and the Big Bash brings through the next generation. Go for everything rather than one or the other."