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Manuka makeover attracts admirers and sets stage for more internationals

Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland is impressed with Manuka Oval's upgrades.

Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland is impressed with Manuka Oval's upgrades. Photo: Arsineh Houspian

Last summer it was the lights. This time the latest stage of the Manuka Oval makeover passed its first test with flying colours and will enable Canberra to bid for more international and domestic fixtures.

A capacity crowd of more than 12,000 soaked up the atmosphere as fast bowling great Brett Lee and the Prime Minister's XI hosted England in the city's marquee cricket game.

The crowd joins in on a mexican wave at the PM's XI game at Manuka oval, Canberra. Front L-R Denise Weisse and Mark Edmistone, both of Nicholls, Philip Stokes and Mitch Stokes, both of Brisbane. Click for more photos

Prime Minister's XI vs England

Prime Minister's XI vs England at Manuka Oval in Canberra. Photo: Melissa Adams

It was the first game at the ground since it had its $7 million upgrade, with a complete resurfacing of the playing surface, extra seating and increased amenities.

An additional $2 million of upgrades will begin this week to be completed in time for the start of the AFL season.

Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland, his Cricket NSW counterpart, Andrew Jones, and officials from the 2015 cricket World Cup organising committee were on hand to cast an eye over the improvements.

Canberra is unlikely to host a Test match in the near future, with the Western Australian Cricket Association expected to upgrade the Perth ground in time to be retained on the 2015-16 schedule.

But Sutherland said the lights and increased capacity made Canberra a more attractive option for other formats of the game.

''We're incredibly impressed with Manuka Oval and the efforts to upgrade the venue for elite sport,'' he said.

''While there are no plans to host Test cricket at Manuka, we are looking for opportunities to give the people of Canberra more top-level cricket content. Plans are well placed for the three World Cup fixtures here next summer, which present a terrific opportunity for local cricket fans to take in the game's biggest event.''

Cricket ACT has been discussing with Cricket NSW for a Sydney Thunder game in Canberra next season. The Thunder's home ground at ANZ Stadium will be used by soccer's Asian Cup, with other venues around Sydney along with Canberra being considered.

''It's certainly a chance, but it's not a certainty,'' Jones said.

''With the BBL season just about over, we're moving out of execution mode and into planning mode, and that includes venue selection.

''The process is we'll sit down with ANZ Stadium in the next two weeks and work out how many games we can play there.

''Once that's confirmed, we'll be in a position to meet with Manuka and other interested grounds.''

Jones said another option would be to play in Canberra a pre-season Big Bash League game involving the Thunder.

He also said there had been discussions to extend the deal involving NSW bringing one Sheffield Shield game and a Ryobi Cup game to Canberra each season.

The Thunder is keen to forge greater links with the ACT and has a major sponsorship deal with the University of Canberra.

Manuka Oval's limited capacity will make it hard to entice one-day international or Twenty20 international games on a regular basis without substantial funding from the ACT government.

Cricket ACT chief executive Mark Vergano said the unique dimensions of the ground could be used as a selling point.

''You get this wonderful boutique cricket experience, and the magic ambience with the lights gives a very different feel to a Melbourne or a Brisbane,'' he said.

''It's a niche part of the market. Like all facilities around Australia there's more to be done, but we've put ourselves in with a good chance.''

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