How the ‘boss’ and a favour saved the Sydney icon
Earl Eddings' phone rang late on Tuesday morning. It was the NSW Premier on the line.
As the fate of the Sydney Test hung in the balance, Gladys Berejiklian personally reinforced to the Chairman of Cricket Australia just how important the saving of the SCG showpiece was to NSW.
It's too simplistic to say the phone call tipped the scales in NSW's favour, but on a day of high drama where cricket's decision could have swung either way, the conversation enabled Eddings to walk into a board meeting and tell his directors that the assurances given by NSW officials had the full backing of the boss.
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"You can't understate it. If you're the Chair of any sporting organisation and the Premier picks up the phone and rings you … and says, 'I really want this event and I want to reinforce we're all in this together,' that definitely does make an impact. There's no doubt about that," said the man who encouraged Berejiklian to make the call, NSW Tourism Minister, Stuart Ayres.
"For the boss to say, 'I want this as much as everyone else does,' it just reinforces that position like no one else can."
The stunning Sydney Test save was driven by some of the most powerful figures in NSW, with Ayres credited as an architect and Cricket Australia interim chief executive Nick Hockley the Zen-master who held his nerve in the face of massive pressure and pulled off the unthinkable.
Highly influential Venues NSW and SCG Trust Chairman Tony Shepherd played a critical role, as did Eddings, Police Commissioner Mick Fuller and Foxtel boss Patrick Delany and Fox Sports chief Steve Crawley.
Shepherd took a call from Eddings on Sunday October 18. The CA Chairman was fearful Australia's $300 million Test summer could suddenly be under threat after Queensland waited until the 11th hour to turn their backs on quarantining the Indian and Australian teams returning from Dubai.
But within the space of 72 hours, Shepherd and Ayres had orchestrated a quick-fire rescue package, and Eddings, Hockley and CA had not forgotten.
Neither had TV executives Delany and Crawley who had their exclusive white ball international matches shored up by NSW's commitment and were determined not to let the logistical complications for broadcasters posed by the COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney be the reason for the Test being moved.
Crawley said for all the high-powered lobbying, the credit belongs to CA's interim boss Hockley, who he believes has proven himself for the top job.
"From where I sit, he's the hero of this," said Crawley.
"Hockley now belongs on the same boat as Peter V'landys and Gillon McLachlan. Elsewhere in the world you wouldn't be this lucky to have such great leaders of sport."
Shepherd, who helped coordinate the coup while on holidays on the south coast said it was a team effort from "NSW Inc" headed by Ayres and the trust already established between the State and CA.
"Stuart ensured we got strong Government support from the Premier down ... it was Stuart who recommended to the Premier that she call Earl Eddings and confirm all of the promises and confirm our eagerness to hold the game," Shepherd said.
"It was a group effort."
Towards the end of the first Test, as the flow-on effects of the Northern Beaches COVID outbreak started to wreak havoc with players and broadcast staff in Adelaide, Sydney Cricket Ground officials privately feared they were about to lose their Test.
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At several points over the 10 days that followed, it seemed all but certain that Melbourne would take custody of the Sydney icon, as border crossing issues with a stubborn Queensland Government proved a minefield to overcome.
Remarkably, had the decision not been made just after 9pm on Tuesday night, it's debatable whether CA would have backed in Sydney after 18 new cases were announced on Wednesday morning.
The Sydney Test decision has polarised opinion with more than 70 per cent of Telegraph readers voting against the event being staged.
However, NSW and SCG officials are adamant a minimum of a 50 per cent capacity crowd can be safely accommodated on January 7.
The biggest challenge for organisers now is to convince people that just because NSW's approach to managing COVID-19 is different to Victoria and Queensland doesn't mean it's wrong.
This was the exact same obstacle NSW officials successfully overcame with a Melbourne-centric Cricket Australia, somewhat scarred by the Victorian lockdown. That is, to convince them that NSW's superior contact tracing methods and commitment to striking a balance between health and economic investment was something to trust in. That Sydney's Test - worth over $100 million to the economy - was something worth saving and something that could be saved safely.
As the countdown intensified to D-Day for a decision on the Sydney Test, NSW officials felt Cricket Australia weren't putting enough pressure on the Queensland Government to come to the party with solutions to the major stumbling block of how to cross the NSW-Queensland border and finish the series in Brisbane.
NSW wanted CA to play hard ball with Queensland and tell them that their Test match could be at stake, however, despite lingering anger at how they'd been treated by Queensland earlier in the summer, administrators were reluctant to use strong-arm tactics.
CA sources say Queensland divulged their requirements before Christmas, and the final days of the saga centred around cross-checking every aspect of the plan to make sure it could tick all the boxes.
Forty-eight hours before, NSW officials felt they'd lost, and even on the day of the decision CA were nervous about the three mystery cases that had popped up in Sydney.
In the end, Cricket Australia's chief objective was to maintain the original schedule, and although an anxious week awaits, a debt of gratitude to NSW has been repaid which won't be forgotten.
Originally published as How the 'boss' and a favour saved the Sydney icon