There are very few things quite so depressing during a Test match as the massive white (or pink) covers stretched across the pitch and surrounding square. Unfortunately, the covers are becoming a regular fixture during the Sydney New Year Test, so much so that, in recent years, a chorus of pleas have echoed for the Harbour City to lose the premium fixture.The late Shane Warne famously advocated for this, suggesting during rain-affected play in the fourth Ashes Test in 2022 that the Sydney Test should be played at the start of the summer. A soggy tale This year’s Sydney Test was again affected by rain, marking the seventh Sydney Test in the past eight to be interrupted by rain, with four of those matches ending in draws. ABC Grandstand cricket analyst Ric Finlay has been quoted by both the Sydney Morning Herald and Fox Cricket as saying that Sydney has had 26 washed-out days in Australian Tests – the most for any ground in the country since 1877. In comparison, Melbourne has had only nine days washed out due to rain, the Gabba eight, and Adelaide only two. But the history behind Sydney hosting the New Year’s Test is a lengthy one. The last time a New Year’s Test failed to be played at the SCG was all the way back at the beginning of 1997 when a Carlton & United Series one-day international series was played instead between Australia, Pakistan, and the West Indies – and even then, Sydney got the New Year’s Day match between Australia and Pakistan (Pakistan won by four wickets with 27 balls remaining).
The Frank Worrell Trophy series between the West Indies and Australia for the 1996-97 series was played out either side of the one-day international trilateral, with Sydney playing host to the second Test played between November 29 and December 3, 1996 (Australia won by 124 runs).
The Sydney Cricket Ground similarly played host to the 1996 New Year’s Day day-night match between the West Indies and Australia, part of another trilateral along with Sri Lanka. The Sydney Test for that 1995-96 Australian Summer was played between Pakistan and Australia between November 30 and December 4, 1995 (Pakistan won by 74 runs).
Prior to these one-day international interruptions to the Sydney New Year’s Test, you have to go back to 1990 when the third Test between Pakistan and Australia was played at the SCG in early February, which, ironically, saw two days wiped out due to rain. The match was a drawn one.
Sydney Tests in 1989, ’88, and ’87 were all played in late-January, representing the last significant run of Tests to be played away from the New Year’s slot. A changing climate Unfortunately, history cannot always remain the ultimate arbiter of decision-making, not least of all when our entire planet’s climate and weather patterns are under assault. For some editorial context, when I’m not in front of the TV watching sports or at my local pool swimming laps, I work as a clean technology journalist, and have covered clean technology and climate change for nearly two decades. And the reality is that, regardless of how you want to interpret the facts, Australia’s climate and weather patterns are changing.
Australia’s East Coast is regularly affected by large-scale oceanic and climate patterns such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and its alternate phase, known as La Niña. Northern and north-east Australia are always battered by a monsoon season which generally lasts from December to March, while the Indian Ocean Dipole can increase or decrease rainfall. However, not only are these regular patterns being intensified by climate change, but so too are Australia’s standard weather patterns – and not always in the way people think. Too many times the concept of “global warming” or “climate change” has led people to assume only that temperatures will get hotter, but with 71 per cent of the planet’s surface covered by water, shifts in climate lead to a wide array of changes.
But what do recent weather patterns tell us, if anything, about wet Sydney Tests? According to rainfall observations for the Sydney Botanic Gardens recorded by Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), the month of January can vary between 2.2mm of rain (1985) all the way up to 400mm (1972). Since 2010, there have been seven years which saw January rainfall exceed 100mm – six of which were over 150mm, maxing out at 268.2mm (2016 – the same year only 11 overs were bowled across the middle three days of the New Year’s Test) (Photo by Mike Owen – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images) These numbers shouldn’t necessarily be taken as a signal of any particular longer-term change in the weather – they are relevant, but only to a degree. These numbers really only show that recent years have been wet. Conversely, these particularly wet years were in fact preceded by some of the driest January years in recent memory. In other words, recent memory is not always a particularly good dataset, further demonstrating the need to listen to expert meteorologists and climate scientists. What we can say, however, is that January rainfall in Sydney has been increasing in recent years and is reliably wetter than December.
A revised plan Together, then, short-term rainfall observations and Sydney Test records combine to paint a picture of Sydney’s relative unsuitability to hosting the New Year’s Test.
What could be done, then, to ensure as much Test cricket is played as possible, while ensuring Sydney retains a drawcard Test? A number of factors need to be taken into account: Tests played in late-November and early-December have to allow leeway for work and school hours, as well as the domestic competitions, including the start of the Big Bash. We can’t simply shuffle matches around and then get upset when no one turns up during work or school hours – such as happened at the recent Perth Test match. Usman Khawaja bats during the First Test. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images) But with those caveats, there appear to be some obvious answers. Sydney should host a day-night Test in early to mid-December – making the most of the weekend and summer nights and pairing a pink-ball Test with the Pink Test raising funds for the McGrath Foundation. Ideally, Brisbane should get the first Test held at the beginning of December – though, unless we’re going to start playing more Tests at home in Winter, we’re going to be battling rain at some point.
Melbourne should retain the Boxing Day Test, if for no other reason than there’s no cause to change things. The New Year’s Test could then be moved to Adelaide, where it just seems not to rain at all? But to ensure the proper use of one of the world’s most beautiful ovals, the Adelaide Oval should also play host to a day-night Test – hopefully also helping to retain interest and excitement in the greatest form of the game. That’s four Tests, and with the Border-Gavaskar Trophy due for the 2024-25 summer and the Ashes scheduled for 2025-26, those five-game series can be handed out to Perth and Hobart, with Perth getting another day-night match.
A Perth day-night Test could be particularly captivating in Optus Stadium, and even if scheduled during a non-holiday period, the evening sessions will allow those still at work and school to attend. Hobart, on the other hand, deserves a Test match, regularly, and even if it doesn’t get picked to be part of the five-match or three- and two-match series, it would be nice if Cricket Australia would continue to make an effort to attract smaller Test-playing nations in the vein of the aborted 2021 Afghanistan Test. Will changes be made? At this point, they have to be: too many days and sessions of cricket are being lost in an effort to placate Sydney. But a day-night, pink-ball, Pink Test could be just what both Sydney and cricket in Australia needs.