Domain Tests v Sri Lanka
Lyon's return for Manuka's new jewel
Fans set to enjoy ‘totally new experience’ for historic first men's Test match between Australia and Sri Lanka
Andrew Ramsey at Manuka Oval, Canberra
30 January 2019, 06:50 PM AEST
Having nurtured his blossoming cricket talents in Canberra, Nathan Lyon unashamedly admits there will be a song in his heart as well as music in his ears when Australia's national anthem rings out across Manuka Oval on Friday morning.
But as he and Australia team assistant coach Brad Haddin – another home-grown Australian Capital Territory product – soak up the experience of Canberra's historic first men's Test match, they might also struggle to recognise the venue at where they played so much junior cricket.
That's because boutique Manuka Oval for the second Domain Series Test against Australia bears little resemblance to the sprawling regional ground where Haddin first turned out for the Canberra Comets in December 1997, or Lyon led the ACT under-19s almost a decade later.
It's even vastly different to the setting that greeted Lyon earlier this summer when he made a triumphant return for New South Wales in a JLT Sheffield Shield game, that yielded the off-spinner nine wickets in a thumping win over Queensland.
While Manuka's changing visage is most starkly expressed by the futuristic media and broadcast facility that dominates its southern end, the additions made to improve fan experience for spectators at the Test starting on Friday are equally dramatic.
The double-storey corporate marquee from where patrons can feel they are almost fielding at fine leg; the giant video screens that frame the historic Jack Fingleton Scoreboard relocated from the MCG; the banks of temporary seating along the eastern flank.
It's little wonder that Haddin, who with former Australia Test and ODI player Michael Bevan is the most famous locally born men's cricketer, was "gobsmacked" when he saw how his one-time home ground has evolved, according to Cricket ACT Chief Executive James Allsopp.
"Those who haven't been to Manuka in the last month, they'll walk in and feel like they're having a totally new experience," Allsopp told cricket.com.au today.
"It's like Manuka has grown up - it's grown into a really iconic, boutique venue that, as of Friday, will be a Test venue.
"We're really grateful for the opportunity to host a Test match.
"In 142 years of Tests there's only ever been 10 venues in Australia, and we're the 11th.
"This is our biggest moment – we've hosted one-day international and World Cup games and women's Ashes, but there's no doubt a men's Test match is the ultimate so there's a real buzz in the community.
"It's our jewel in the crown.
"There's a lot of people who have put a lot of hard work into making this a reality and - as a relatively new CEO - I'm lucky that I get to be leading the organisation going into this Test match."
Allsopp is also realistic enough to acknowledge that the coming match between Australia and Sri Lanka, which has the potential to boast sold-out crowds of around 11,000 on each of the first three days, will likely be Canberra's last Test for the immediate future.
Under the ICC's World Test Championship program released last year, Australia will not host more than five Test matches across a single summer until at least 2023-24.
Which means that Test cricket over the ensuing four years seems certain to remain at the traditional Test venues in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
But assuming that 31-year-old Lyon has half a dozen or so years left at elite level, should he then return to the venue where he not only honed his bowling craft but also began his auxiliary trade as a groundsman, he will notice even greater aesthetic changes.
The ACT Government this week pledged an additional $2.7 million to install new roof canopies above seating at Manuka's northern and southern ends to provide additional shade for around 1,000 seats.
And if Allsopp's dream fully materialises, the temporary seating will be replaced by a large, permanent grandstand to further enhance spectator comfort and lift the venue's capacity to around 15,000.
"It's no secret that we'd love to see a big grandstand on the eastern side and just improve the amenities over there, but I guess that's the final frontier," Allsopp said.
"We want to keep the boutique feel of the ground, but we'd also love to see the eastern side be a little bit more established to cater for that fan experience.
"Anyone who comes to Manuka is going to see that the ground looks spectacular.
"It's the nature of the ground – fast outfield, really nice wicket, spectator experience that makes them feel so close to the action so it just caters for really great cricket.
"The outfield is arguably the best in Australia if not world cricket, and hopefully it will be really well supported.
"We can control all that – what we can't control is whether we get a Test match in the future, and as much as we'd love to, we're realistic and know that in the next four years at least, that looks unlikely.
Manuka Oval looking 👌 ahead its maiden Test match #AUSvSL pic.twitter.com/Vn3bdPklD4— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) January 29, 2019
"But we love hosting women's internationals, we love hosting men's internationals, and whether it's white or red-ball we just want to support the Australian cricket system and attract the best cricketers to Manuka."
It's taken Manuka more than quarter of a century to progress from men's one-day international venue – it hosted a battle between neighbours South Africa and Zimbabwe at the 1992 ICC World Cup – to Test match ground.
Along the way it has seen its share of memorabilia cricket moments.
In 2013-14 it hosted the Sheffield Shield final between New South Wales and Western Australia in which Josh Hazlewood announced himself as a Test seamer-in-waiting by grabbing 6-50.
The following summer, Manuka was the scene of a memorable KFC Big Bash League final where the Perth Scorchers snatched a last-ball victory over the Sydney Sixers and, a month later, West Indies' opener Chris Gayle clubbed 215 from 147 balls in a World Cup match against Zimbabwe.
And last season. the ground showcased the two final T20 clashes in the Commonwealth Bank Women's Ashes including the ultimate game in which England chased down Australia's 178 to square the multi-format series, even though they had surrendered the urn.
Manuka draws sizeable crowds to Sydney Thunder matches in the BBL and WBBL competition, and its evolution mirrors that of the broader ACT pathways program which has provided 22 men's players for the BBL since the competition's inception.
And currently, the Canberra Meteors outfit sits second on the Women's National Cricket League ladder.
Allsopp says he'll be chatting with newly appointed Cricket NSW Chief Executive Lee Germon throughout the upcoming Test about the opportunities for hosting more top-flight matches in Canberra over coming summers.
But the focus for Canberra's sizeable and passionate cricket community come Friday morning will be unblinkingly upon Manuka Oval.
Where Lyon, who as a youngster from the cherry-growing regional centre of Young around 150km from the national capital, came to pursue his cricket dream.
"It’s going to be a pretty special moment when we sing the national anthem out there," Lyon said today.
"I’ve got a lot of family coming over from Young.
"When you get the opportunity to play in front of a lot of friends and family, it becomes a lot more special.
"Especially when I get the opportunity to bowl out there.
Has Australia unearthed a new allrounder? Nathan Lyon doesn't seem to think so 😂😂 A post shared by cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) on
"I’ve got a lot of history on the ground, it’s one of my favourite grounds for obvious reasons.
"To be here 10 years (after playing in the Canberra grade competition) and to be playing in the first ever Test Match at Manuka Oval, where I used to work, it is pretty special."
Domain Test Series v Sri Lanka
Australia: Tim Paine (c/wk), Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Kurtis Patterson, Will Pucovski, Jhye Richardson, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis
Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (c), Dimuth Karunaratne, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Mendis, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Dhananjaya de Silva, Roshen Silva, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Kusal Perera, Dilruwan Perera, Lakshan Sandakan, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep, Lahiru Kumara, Dushmantha Chameera, Kasun Rajitha
First Test: Australia won by an innings and 40 runs
Second Test: February 1-5, Canberra