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Cricket Australia walks tightrope on January 26 debate

Andrew Mathieson -

Cricket Australia appears to be attempting to appease all parties concerned over the division on January 26 ahead of the final Test match of the Australian summer scheduled to run over the date.

The second day of the men's Test against the West Indies will coincide with the public holiday on Friday.

Plans have been announced to acknowledge the January 26 date at the Gabba only "in passing", but not to mention the term Australia Day, and to instead just recognise the occasion "means different things to different people".

A Welcome to Country ceremony will be performed on the first day of the Test while players of both international teams have accepted invitations to attend a smoking ceremony and participate in a barefoot circle ritual the next day.

Officials are keen to promote the day as one of "inclusivity and respect" for its Brisbane patrons this year, regardless of their personal views on the date.

But New South Wales premier Chris Minns has denounced Cricket Australia's decision to not expressly acknowledge Australia Day, saying "they should mention it".

Minns even called the decision "extremely strange" and believed the cricket's national body needs to "revisit the decision".

"We should, right now, be trying to pull each other together," Minns told 2GB radio on Monday.

"And this is the day that we've set aside to celebrate what it means to live in the greatest country on Earth".

Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese responded by saying the nation should "stop looking for areas in which we can be outraged".

In recent seasons, Cricket Australia has accepted that this date is one of sorrow and heartbreak for many First Nations people, and subsequently it has looked to downplay the day unlike in the past back before it was a national holiday.

Adelaide Oval use to annually host a Test or an one-day international specifically on that date, but the SACA venue was eventually stripped of the patriotic fixture, ensuring local traditionalists no longer have a prospect to mark Australia Day.

But the tactful moves has not included avoiding playing Australian games over time in a long international season.

The Test will be the first time since a one-day international with New Zealand in the 2020-21 season that the national men's side has competed on January 26.

Australia's women avoided a conflict with the day that commemorates the first British colonial settlement at Port Jackson after their one-off Test back in 2022 was purposely scheduled for January 27-30 against England.

But last year the second women's T20 international of the series with Pakistan was held on the date that was later condemned by Indigenous star allrounder Ash Gardner.

Cricket Australia scheduling chief Peter Roach said a packed calendar always makes it hard to avoid playing on Australia Day.

"We really respect Ash's opinion and understand that for many Australians, and Indigenous Australians especially, that it is a day that just has different meanings," Roach said ahead of this season.

The Muruwari woman also felt obliged to explain why she still took to the field in the match, saying it was a "platform to raise awareness" of Indigenous issues.

But the return to playing on the date again this year has riled up Gardner.

"There's still someone like Scott Boland in and around that Test team, who is of that cultural background," she previously said on the matter.

"Not that it matters that an Aboriginal person is in those teams – it's the history of this country.

"I just don't understand, why this one day of the year – which is the day of mourning and doesn't have a very good history of what happened on that day – that there needs to be cricket."

Gardner had strong support from Gulidjan man Scott Boland, which the Test cult hero has been somewhat more reserved over Indigenous topics than the seasoned female campaigner since his family's heritage was confirmed less than a decade ago.

Boland has stopped short to suggest he would boycott the Test should the Australian selectors pick the 34-year-old over captain Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc or Josh Hazlewood ahead of the next series in New Zealand.

He has been in the playing squad every one of the five Tests this season.

"I fully support Ash's comments," Boland said.

"I don't think January 26 is the day to celebrate.

"It's not really a fully inclusive day where everyone can celebrate Australia."

Cricket Australia consulted with its Indigenous advisory board (NATSICAC) in the lead-up to both the scheduling and also the commemoration of January 26.

Justin Mohamed, the chair of Cricket Australia Indigenous advisory committee, has previously spoken about how the complexities of the day needed to be acknowledged.

"I think it could be a powerful event that every time Australia plays on that day, there's going to be a significant difference to how that day feels," he said.

"And that comes from education to say, 'this is why'.

"You don't know what you don't know.

"Depending on the ground they play at, there could be a (Indigenous) massacre site not far from where they will be playing.

"If the players know that or the spectators know that those things may have an effect."

Cricket Australia has taken several measures in more recent years to share a historic involvement with a First Nations' perspective, including the Johnny Mullagh Medal – named after the star from the trailblazing 1868 Aboriginal cricket tour of England – to the player of the match in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.

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