A number of Covid-19 tests have been done, and some more are yet to happen; the coffee machines have been arranged and the cricket kit is packed. On Sunday, the first hub of the Australian home season will begin to come together in Brisbane as the Victoria and New South Wales-based players of the women’s national team arrive in the city for two weeks’ quarantine ahead of the series against New Zealand.
Due to the Covid-19 numbers in both states – Melbourne, in Victoria, is under a stage-four lockdown until mid-September and New South Wales was declared a hotspot by the Queensland government – there is a fortnight of being mostly confined to the floor of a hotel for the first group of the squad before the players from other states arrive.
However, they are permitted three hours a day in the nets at the Allan Border Field. The players have had three Covid-19 tests before leaving and will have three more during the two-week quarantine. The New Zealand squad is due to land on September 9.
“Meg Lanning has sorted two coffee machines to be flown up to Brisbane, one on each floor for the first quarantine. Someone will have to look after that because think most of us are pretty useless”
As with the men’s tour of England, the preparations began a long way out. Ashleigh Gardner, one of four New South Wales-based players in the 18-strong squad, decided to move out of home, where she lives with her mother and brother, so they did not have to go through the same restricted lifestyle as her. She has been staying with Alyssa Healy for the last few weeks.
“It’s been a different lead-in to any other tour,” Gardner told ESPNcricinfo. “We made the decision it would be too hard for them [family members] to be on the same regime I was and not being able to go and do things, so I moved in with Alyssa which has been cool. It’s very different to what we are used but we leave on Sunday, so things are all starting to get pretty real.”
In the lead-up to the tour, Gardner trained in a separate group away from the NSW squad with her Australian team-mates Healy, Erin Burns and Rachael Haynes, along with stand-by Sammy Jo-Johnson and a couple of coaches. Being an allrounder, Gardner has bowled “quite a bit” while the coaches have “thrown endless amounts of balls to us”.
“It’s not the most ideal lead-in to a tour but everyone is in the same boat and we’ve tried to make the most of the facilities and people we have,” she said.
Crucially, the quarantined players will be able to access nets during their first two weeks. It is a similar set-up that Cricket Australia hope to get signed off for the men in Perth when they return from the UK.
“It will be challenging but it will be nice to see some new and familiar faces even if it is from a distance,” Gardner said. “Will be nice to change the environment and scenery from what we’ve had in the last four months.”
Aside from the three hours at training, however, the rest of the time will be spent at the hotel. There will a common area where players can meet for meals, an Xbox and table tennis, but also a lot of Netflix.
Gardner is leaving her dot-art painting at home but has some electronic versions on her iPad. The captain, meanwhile, has arranged some very important items. “Meg Lanning has sorted two coffee machines to be flown up to Brisbane, one on each floor for the first quarantine,” Gardner said. “Someone will have to look after that because think most of us are pretty useless.”
When the quarantine is complete the rules and restrictions will remain very tight. Collecting takeaway coffee and food, avoiding crowds, wearing masks. “It’s about being sensible and smart, doing the right things,” Gardner said.
It will be more than six months since the T20 World Cup final when the first T20I of the series is played on September 26. Gardner admitted there would be uncertainty among all the players.
“A lot of players will feel a bit underdone without match practice before an international series. Personally, there’ll be plenty of nerves, there won’t be a player who doesn’t have some. We’ve just got to back our ability and know what we’ve been able to achieve in the past.”
But there is huge relief that cricket is on the horizon. “It feels like we’ve had the longest pre-season in history; we are all pretty sick of just training and nothing else. It’s exciting that games are so close, both the internationals and the [Women’s] Big Bash [League].”