Ashes to Ashes: Next stop Australia
England saw off Australia's cricketers in the home series. Now it's time to go Down Under and watch them do it all over again. Simon Calder explains how
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Saturday 31 August 2013
As winter approaches, prepare for more bad light – unless you decide to pack your cricket bag for the nation where the sun shines especially brightly in November, December and January. Bowling straight from Sydney airport to the cricket ground ahead of a fine day's tournament is the best possible antidote to a northern winter.
Normally you would expect to wait a couple of years between one Ashes series ending and the next starting. But this year there are less than three months for the Barmy Army to wait before the next battle: the First Test in the next Ashes series begins at the Gabba in Brisbane in November.
Thousands of fans, enthused by England's 3-0 success in the home series, are planning to head for Australia. But what awaits them in terms of finding airline seats, hotels, transport and tickets? And how will the series affect travellers who don't like cricket but happen to be heading Down Under this winter? Here's the scorecard.
Air fares: what's happening?
To keep a lid on your spending, aim for the First Test in Brisbane, over the fourth weekend in November. There's a range of flights from various UK airports to the Queensland capital available at less than £900 return – not significantly more than the usual fare during that month. There are no direct flights, but the widest choice of UK airports is on Emirates via Dubai.
For the Second Test, at the Adelaide Oval over the first weekend in December, flights from Heathrow and Manchester are available via Singapore for less than £1,000 return.
You might also be able to find a bargain to Perth for the Third Test, if you are prepared to fly home straight after close of play on the final day. Malaysia Airlines from Heathrow is currently quoting around £1,114 for a 11-17 December trip.
For the last two Tests in the series – in Melbourne and Sydney – just accept that the fares are going to soar. The matches coincide with the "super-peak" season for flights to and from Australia before and after Christmas/New Year. For flying out direct from Heathrow to Melbourne on the last Saturday before Christmas and returning from Sydney the day after the final test match, with the hop between the two cities included, the prevailing price is around £2,000.
Is it worth holding on for a better deal?
Not for trips over Christmas and New Year – fares are likely only to increase, so book as soon as you can. For late November/early December you can afford to wait a bit longer before committing, because the airlines still have plenty of capacity. But don't expect fares to fall significantly.
Somewhere to stay?
While air fares from Britain remain good value, once you touch down you're exposed to the mighty Australian dollar. It has weakened slightly in the past six months but is still punishingly strong. Combine that with the spike in demand that a Test match always creates, and some of the prices for hotels are astronomical. Looking at Perth, a double room at a good hotel close to the Waca ground is going to cost you more than £1,700, if you check in the night before the Third Test starts and check out the day after it finishes. If you are prepared to compromise on comfort, Australia has lots of quality hostels. You don't need to be confined to a dorm – the equivalent of £50 a night gets you a double room.
How do I get hold of tickets?
Tickets went on sale last month. You might imagine that, in a sports-mad nation, they'd all be gone by now. But there are two things in your favour. First, the grounds are much larger: the MCG in Melbourne holds nearly six times as many spectators as Trent Bridge. Second, population distribution in Australia means that the "catchment area" for each city is more limited. While 10 million people or more live within a two-hour drive of Lords or Edgbaston, there are far fewer prospective spectactors within easy reach of the Australian venues. So there's still a fair amount of choice online at cricket.com.au/tickets. For example, for the Boxing Day start of the Fourth Test in Melbourne, ground admission is A$40 (£23) with the best seats at $170 (£100) .
What's the best way to get around?
Go overland, but bear in mind the scale of Australia. Melbourne and Sydney are more than 650 miles apart by road – a full day's drive. From the Second Test in Adelaide to the Third in Perth, you could take the Indian Pacific train (A$415/£244), but you'll arrive only in time for the second day. Most fans will fly, which pushes fares up.
I'm on a tight budget. Any tips?
For Test cricket, go early: combine Brisbane and Adelaide. But if you're content with a one-day international, aim for the match in Sydney on 19 January. Fares and hotel rates will be much lower. If you can stretch your visit by a week, the following Sunday is Australia Day – coinciding with the last one-day international at the Adelaide Oval.
I don't like cricket – but I'm heading to Australia. What effect will it have?
Be prepared for expense and disruption if you plan to be in a host city while a Test is taking place. Hotel rooms will be at a premium, and flights – both domestic and international – are likely to be scarce and expensive immediately before and after each match. If you haven't yet booked, consider postponing until next winter. You could be first in the queue for flights.
Where and when?
The Waca, Perth
Melbourne Cricket Ground (26-30 December).
Ground (3-7 Jan) .
First match, Melbourne (12 January); second, Brisbane (17 January); third, Sydney (19 January); fourth, Perth (24 January); fifth, Adelaide (26 January).
Blundstone Arena, Hobart (29 January); MCG, Melbourne (31 January); Stadium Australia, Sydney (2 February).
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