ACT Comets batsman Aaron Ayre and wicketkeeper Beau McClintock under the new lights at Manuka Oval. Photo: Melissa Adams
NEW LIGHTS and a new era - Cricket ACT wants to use Manuka Oval's transformation as the catalyst for the sport's revival in the capital.
And while international day-night matches are on the wish list, officials hope gaining entry to the Twenty20 Big Bash League will reinvigorate the Canberra talent pool.
More than a decade after the ACT Comets were banished from the top-tier Australian competitions, Cricket ACT is planning a bid for admission to the Big Bash.
Matthew Hayden takes on the old Comets in 1999. Photo: Kylie Pickett
The new lights at Manuka have opened the way for Canberra to have a greater impact and involvement on the national cricket stage.
They will get their first test when the Prime Minister's XI plays the West Indies on Tuesday before the Australian team arrives in Canberra to play for the first time on February 6.
Cricket ACT chairman Ian McNamee says it's a chance for a new beginning.
''We had the rug pulled from under us when the Comets were kicked out and it stuffed our local competition as well,'' McNamee said.
''The players that came here to play with the Comets left and others gave up in despair. We lost 33 of 88 first-grade players in Canberra.
''We've been working to revive the talent pool, but we've been victims of our own success because players move on elsewhere for [state contract] opportunities.
''If [we get into the Big Bash], it's going to be like when the Comets were in and attract players here and improve grassroots … it just needs to happen.''
Cricket ACT will meet with a business consortium - which includes representatives from Channel Nine and Fox Sports - on Tuesday to continue its push for entry to the Big Bash.
It costs about $2.5 million to run a Big Bash team. Private franchise owners are a potential option.
In the past, Canberra's lack of night cricket facilities hadcost it the chance of hosting big international matches and joining the domestic competitions.
But the Big Bash provides an avenue for a revival of the Comets.
Nine former ACT players have earned league contracts.
Officials are considering expansion when the next television rights deal is finalised.
But it is understood Cricket Australia is divided on whether to add two teams - probably Canberra and Geelong - or retain the same number of teams and play more games.
However, there will be at least one Big Bash match in the capital next season, with Cricket ACT already deep in negotiations with Cricket NSW about hosting the Sydney Sixers or Sydney Thunder at Manuka Oval. McNamee said the next two weeks would serve as Canberra's ''audition'' to Cricket Australia.
''The biggest thing for us is that we've got two games in eight days and if we can show we can pack people in over a short period of time, that's the biggest thing for us,'' he said.
''Everyone has to turn out and put on a show … this will give us a chance to prove what we can do.
''We haven't had a game under lights before so we'll learn from that, but the crowd will be key.
''The exciting thing is sitting here and looking at those new lights … there's absolutely no reason why we can't have any game of cricket in the world here.''
More than 8000 tickets have been sold for the PM's XI clash and the one-day international eight days later is almost sold out.
Cricket ACT suffered a blow when last year's PM's XI fixture was washed out before a ball had been bowled.
But with Chris Gayle, Ricky Ponting and Brad Haddin ready for this year's fixture, officials are hoping for a capacity crowd.
West Indies power hitter Gayle was a star in his last trip to Canberra, smashing 146 off just 89 balls.
''But the challenge for us is how to make a day-night game work for us because we've never done it before,'' Cricket ACT chief executive Mark Vergano said.
''It's just simple stuff like what happens during the night and how the ground reacts.
''We keep the crowd limit to around 10,500 so it's about spectator comfort and in the future that will change when the capacity grows to 19,000 with the redevelopment here.''