Australia, New Zealand to pay tribute to bushfire victims and firefighters

At least 18 people have lost their lives in one of Australia's most devastating bushfire seasons which has seen blazes raging across the country.

The match, starting Friday, will go ahead but play will be suspended at the umpire's discretion, should smoke significantly affect air quality or visibility.   -  TWITTER (@BLACKCAPS)

Australia and New Zealand cricketers will pay tribute to firefighters and bushfire victims during the third Test in Sydney, officials said Thursday, as they prepare for possible delays if air quality plummets due to smoke.

At least 18 people have lost their lives in one of Australia's most devastating bushfire seasons which has seen blazes raging across the country, including on the outskirts of Sydney.

The match, starting Friday, will go ahead but play will be suspended at the umpire's discretion, should smoke significantly affect air quality or visibility.

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Saturday is shaping as of most concern, when another heatwave is expected to sweep across the country and create dangerous fire conditions.

"Like rain, the rules are in place to add time, to suspend play (for Tests). But what we're finding is it (smoke) comes in quick but also goes quick," Cricket Australia's head of operations Peter Roach told cricket.com.au.

"It's unlikely, we believe, it'll be there for a full day.

"We might see some challenges across that day, but we'll play it like rain or adverse weather. Time can be added on."

Before play on Friday both sides will take part in a minute's applause for fire and emergency services workers and wear black armbands as a mark of respect for those who have died.

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Cricket Australia also announced a fundraising drive for the Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund during one-day matches between Australia and New Zealand in Sydney in March.

"On behalf of Australian cricket, we wish everyone fighting the fires across Australia a safe New Year," Australia coach Justin Langer and captain Tim Paine said in a joint letter published in local media Thursday.

"We pray the conditions improve, the fires ease and the rains come. And, above all else, we hope all Australians pull together and help each other through this incredibly difficult time."

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The issue of smoke is a difficult one for cricket officials, who currently rely on a mix of air quality guidelines from the International Cricket Council, state governments and the Australian Institute of Sport.

But there are inconsistencies on what is considered "unsafe".

A Big Bash League match in Canberra was abandoned this month because of toxic bushfire haze, but several have been played in Sydney since the season began two weeks ago.

At last month's Australian Open golf in Sydney, players complained of stinging eyes and trouble breathing, and New Zealand's Ryan Chisnall wore a face mask.

Paine backs authorities

Tim Paine backed staff to make the right decisions amid concerns over poor air quality during Australia's third Test against New Zealand in Sydney.

Paine said he had discussed the issue ahead of the Test, which begins on Friday, amid worries over the players' health.

"Not at the moment I'm not [concerned], but again we're lucky that in the Australian setup we've got world-class doctors and people that are put in place to make those decisions," the Australia captain told a news conference.

"As a playing group we're just focusing on what we can control which is going out and playing and we'll be doing that until we're told otherwise.

"I've been given a sort of rough guide but basically when it gets smoky, we're coming off.

"Our doc I think is having a pretty big say in reading the levels of air quality and stuff like that so I think it's all set, we know the number. If it happens it happens and unfortunately that's life."

Australia, leading the three-Test series 2-0, are set to go in unchanged despite expectations the pitch in Sydney is set to be spin-friendly.

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