Test cricket star Usman Khawaja has added his voice to the controversial debate about whether Cricket Australia (CA) should schedule matches on January 26, amid fresh uproar over the divisive subject. On Monday, CA released a raft of fixtures for the country's summer of cricket, with a Gabba Test scheduled for the national public holiday.
Indigenous women's star Ashleigh Gardner says she's disappointed by the decision to schedule the men's Gabba day-night Test against West Indies to start on January 25, with the second day's play falling on Australia Day. Gardner - who faced backlash this year after expressing her opposition to playing on January 26 - argued it was not "appropriate" to play on a day that is so painful for Indigenous Australians.
'A BIT DIFFERENT': English cricket great's radical David Warner plan
"I said my opinion (this year) and I told the people that it mattered to. For this to happen again but just to the men's side... I guess there's certainly disappointment around it," Gardner told News Corp. "I just don't understand why this one day of the year – which is a day of mourning, which doesn't have a very good history of what happened on that day, that there needs to be cricket.
"I see sport as a celebration and entertainment and an event you want to go to. Why does there need to be something that represents something that's quite morbid. It's probably not overly appropriate."
Khawaja says while he personally doesn't have any issues playing for his country on January 26, the fact that there is opposition to the move from within the Indigenous community means it's worthy of a robust discussion. "I can only speak for myself. I don't have an issue with it," Khawaja told reporters on Monday. "But if First Nations people and if communities do, then I think we need to explore that and talk about it."
Gardner, who was the second Indigenous woman to play Test cricket for Australia, said having to play against Pakistan earlier this year on the divisive Australian public holiday did not sit well with her. "My culture is something I hold close to my heart and something I’m always so proud to speak about whenever asked," Gardner tweeted at the time.
"Unfortunately this year the Australian women's cricket team has been scheduled to play a game on the 26th of Jan which certainly doesn't sit well with me as an individual but also all the people I'm representing." Australian women's team captain Meg Lanning - who backed Gardner at the time - reiterated her support for her teammate but stressed that scheduling decisions were out of the players' hands.
Cricket Australia defends scheduling decisions
Lanning said discussions and an education process were ongoing regarding formulating a public position on the Indigenous voice to parliament, but expected that to be settled "sometime within the next month or so". However, CA scheduling manager Peter Roach said the governing body's National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cricket Advisory Committee (NATSICAC) had been consulted and supported the schedule.
"We really respect Ash's opinion and understand for many Australians and Indigenous Australians, especially that that's a day that has different meanings," he told reporters. "What we do know is that we've got a really tight schedule where we need to fit lots of games in and we make those decisions with all those factors taken into account and try to make it work for us.
"We consult widely on this to see when we do play those games, especially around the 26th of January and through our own internal group called NATSICAC. We asked their opinion and seek their feedback and we thought all things being considered starting on the 25th of January was an appropriate time."
CA have also stood by their decision to schedule the opening match of the international season on the same day as the NRL grand final, amid concerns the women's game will be overshadowed by the rugby league showpiece. Australia's women's T20 match against the West Indies will finish only hours before the NRL grand final on October 1, with Roach admitting CA were keen to take advantage of the long weekend.
"We have adjusted the times to make sure we're not intersecting with either the NRL women's (or) men's matches, but we know it'll be a terrific (game)," CA's scheduling manager said. "It's a terrific venue for women's cricket, North Sydney Oval, and it'll be well supported as always.
"We have played on the AFL grand final night before but we think that Sunday is our preference and we really want to maximise the school holiday period. So trying to get as many games in that early October window was a real preference for us."
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.