Melbourne on standby, but Sydney still preferred for third India test

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SYDNEY (Reuters) - The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) has been placed on standby if Australia are unable to play the third test against India in Sydney following a fresh coronavirus outbreak in New South Wales, Cricket Australia (CA) said on Thursday.

The third test venue has been the subject of debate after a new community outbreak emerged in Sydney's northern beach suburbs late last week.

CA interim chief executive Nick Hockley, however, said they intended to play the Jan. 7-11 game in Sydney but would move it to Melbourne if required. A decision would be made during the second test at the MCG.

The fourth test at Brisbane's Gabba ground from Jan. 15 would then go ahead as scheduled.

"We've got a range of contingencies for every eventuality," Hockley told reporters in a Zoom conference.

"If situation worsens in Sydney, one of those options is to stay in Melbourne, play the New Year's test in Melbourne and then go straight to Brisbane."

"We've been really buoyed by the way that the New South Wales and Sydney communities seem to be getting on top of this."

"So we are currently planning all systems go for the New Year's test to take place in Sydney as scheduled."

Australia's most populous city has been virtually isolated from the rest of the country with state border closures or mandatory 14-day quarantine for Sydney arrivals.

The touring India team, who lost the day-night series opener in Adelaide, would prefer sticking to the original itinerary, said Hockley who also ruled out playing back-to-back tests in Sydney.

"There's a relatively short gap between the third and fourth tests, so from a pitch perspective it's highly, highly problematic," he said.

The CA is working with the Queensland state government on exemptions to enable players, match officials, broadcasters, media and staff to move from Sydney to Brisbane following the third test if the border was still closed.

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington and Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by Himani Sarkar & Shri Navaratnam)