Latest cricket test under threat by bush fires

By Jamie Wall

Australian captain Tim Paine and NZ captain Kane Williamson

Players are bracing for the third cricket test between the Black Caps and Australia to be suspended or even called off at any moment due to the smoke sweeping Sydney, as the wild fires in New South Wales rage on.

The fires, which have claimed eight lives so far and displaced thousands, have made conditions in Australia’s largest city often unbearable. Australian skipper Tim Paine has maintained that the safety of the players is paramount, and that they will leave the field if the air is affected by the smoke.

"Basically, when it goes smoky we're coming off," Paine said on Thursday ahead of the test that is scheduled to start on Friday.

He was backed up by Cricket Australia CEO Kevin Roberts, who admitted that judging the air quality would be a tricky process.

"We won't be putting the players' health at risk, nor will be putting the health of match officials of fans at the match, or our own people, our own employees, at risk. That's something we'll be monitoring consistently throughout the five days' play," Roberts said.

Paine also conceded that the outcome of the game was definitely not a priority for the thousands affected by the fires.

"At times for us it's important to look outside the bubble that we live in as international cricketers," he said.

"I think the way we look at it is it might be an opportunity for us to provide a distraction for people and a bit of happiness if we can by playing a brand of cricket that Australians are proud of."

The state of emergency has cast a shadow over the last match of the Black Caps’ tour, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison coming under heavy criticism for being seen to pour praise on the cricket side while neglecting the needs of the fire service.

Meanwhile, the Black Caps are up against it anyway with captain Kane Williamson ruled out with illness. He’s joined on the sidelines by Mitchell Santner, which means that Glenn Phillips gets a debut and Tom Latham takes over the captaincy.

Play is scheduled to start on time, with Australia winning the toss and electing to bat. Play starts at 12:30pm NZT.