Blundstone Arena before the Fifth Ashes Test. Picture: Cricket Australia

Tasmanians have grown up on the mystique and power of The Ashes, while only ever dreaming about the possibility of a Hobart Test.

Tasmanians have grown up on the mystique and power of The Ashes, while only ever dreaming about the possibility of a Hobart Test.

But it’s a testament to the bizarre world we’re living in that an Ashes Test at Blundstone Arena is just one of several sporting firsts for Tasmania in the last 15 months, events that were considered impossible just a few years ago.

There is an irony to the fact it’s taken a global pandemic for Tasmania to receive the calibre of games and sporting renaissance it’s now experiencing.

It’s used to being the bridesmaid but the never bride, a sentiment that often also extends beyond the sports world.

But through the havoc and misfortune that COVID has reft, it’s provided Tasmania with unprecedented opportunities.

There is an open acknowledgement that these events have only come about as a product of circumstance, but it has also given Tasmania the chance to reinforce its credentials as one of the country’s most passionate sporting communities.

It all began with BBL|10 starting in a Tasmanian hub at the end of 2020, and it has ballooned from there.

After a year of no AFL football within the state, 2021 saw an unexpected quality and quantity of games.

Blundstone Arena and UTAS Stadium are usually used as a dumping ground by Hawthorn and North Melbourne for their smaller home games against non-Victorian teams.

But last year saw Hawthorn versus Essendon, a matchup usually reserved for a marquee MCG timeslot, delivered to a large and passionate Launceston crowd.

This was later backed up by both Elimination Finals being played at UTAS Stadium, with tickets similarly selling out quickly.

Like its counterpart, the WBBL|07 season started in Tasmania last year, with games played at Invermay Park in addition to Blundstone and UTAS.

The NBL returning to Tasmania for the first time in over 25 years is the only one of these scenarios that were originally planned, but the JackJumpers’ arrival fits in seamlessly with the events of the last 15 months.

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But the state has always held a special affinity for cricket, and while the BBL, WBBL, WNCL, and Sheffield Shield have continued to roll through, a Test match has alluded Tasmania since 2016.

That’s despite the community’s passion for red-ball cricket and what the state has contributed to the game.

While a group of Tasmanians will never dominate a starting XI, it is the quality, not quantity, of players from Tasmania who have served their country so well.

Two of this century’s Australian National Test team captains, Ricky Ponting and Tim Paine, both hail from the Apple Isle.

Other local champions include the legendary David Boon (who will officiate this match after dealing with COVID), the smiling assassin George Bailey (Australia’s current chairman of selectors), Test bowler, and Tasmania’s all-time leading wicket-taker Ben Hilfenhaus, and recent T20 World Cup hero Matthew Wade.

However, Tasmania is left out whenever Cricket Australia’s summer of cricket is released, instead scraping for an international ODI or T20 at the tail end of a jam-packed summer.

But many scenarios once thought impossible have now become a reality in the past two years.

The lack of marquee sporting events like The Ashes has not only made its arrival more anticipated and appreciated, but driven a sense of responsibility and duty through the state’s community to not let this be a one-off.

For years, going on decades, Tasmanians have heard the state’s population and grounds are too small to support big sporting events or major clubs.

That the state historically hasn’t turned up for some AFL or Test games, seemingly forever denying the Tasmanian public it’s right to ask for anything greater.

It’s true that Tasmania, like most Australian jurisdictions, is learning what it means to live with COVID.

Case numbers are in the 1000s, and the reality that you could catch the virus whenever you head out is seeping in for a community that was virtually COVID-free for 18 months.

But Tasmanians will come out for the most famous rivalry in world cricket, The Ashes, a match the state is hosting for the very first time.

That’s enough to entice any local with even a passing interest in cricket, but it’s the not only reason for the predicted strong turnout.

Tasmanians will also be voting with their feet in the hope that what’s currently being billed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, will become the norm going forward.

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