Boxing Day Test : MCG Pitch Report

Posted: December 24, 2010 in Ashes 2010/2011, Boxing Day, MCG, Test
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Melbourne – Australia: The Boxing Day Test at the MCG is always special, and this promises to be one of the best.


 

Overview:

It may be known as the Melbourne Cricket Ground, but in truth the MCG is the premier multi-sport venue in Australia.

The ‘G, as locals call it, hosted the Olympics in 1956 and the Commonwealth Games 50 years later, with countless international matches in both rugby codes, football and Aussie-rules in between.

But the highlight of the Australian sporting calendar is for many the Boxing Day Test at the MCG, with this year’s bigger than most as the ‘G prepares to host its first truly meaningful Ashes contest for a generation.

At one point the vast bowl had a capacity topping 125,000, but the conversion of virtually all areas of the ground to seating has seen the total drop below six figures.

But with the giant three-tier Great Southern Stand circling almost half the ground and holding nearly 50,000 people, the MCG remains one of the most spectacular and imposing venues in any sport.

The MCG hosted the first three Tests in history, and has gone on to host over 50 Tests against England alone.

The Melbourne surface traditionally stays true with even bounce, allowing for a fair contest between bat and ball, although not always between Australia and opposition…

The ground was evacuated in August 2006 when a fire broke out in a stand under construction, causing minor damage to the roof and an area of seating.

 

England’s last visit:

Another crushing victory for the home side. England won the toss and reached a relatively secure 101-2, with Andrew Strauss battling to a rare half-century on a difficult tour. Barely a session later, England were 159 all out with Shane Warne (5-39) once again their chief destroyer.

They did then reduce Australia to 84 for five before centuries from Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds took the game out of England’s reach and took the total to 419 despite four wickets for Saj Mahmood. Yes, Saj Mahmood.

England’s second innings was almost equally as shambolic as the first, the tourists limping pathetically to 161 all out to lose by an innings and 99 runs.

 

Happy hunting ground:

Ricky Ponting’s form is a major worry for Australia, and it’s mixed news for their broken-digited skipper from Melbourne. First the good news: he averages almost 62.50 at the MCG and made his highest Test score here – 257 against India. Now the bad news: against England at the ‘G, he averages under 20.

This is also that rarest of grounds, the sight of a Shane Watson hundred. The king of the half-century scored 120 not out against Pakistan here last year having made a more familiar 93 in the first innings. Small sample admittedly, but an average of 213 is always a decent starting point.

Generally, though, the Aussie batsmen are an inexperienced bunch here. Watson has just that one Test, Phil Hughes has never played here while Mike Hussey and Michael Clarke have one MCG century between them.

The same is true of the bowlers, with little course form to go on past Mitchell Johnson’s 11 wickets at 26. Peter Siddle has six expensive wickets from two appearances, while neither Ben Hilfenhaus nor Ryan Harris has Test experience at the ‘G.

Five of England’s top six have played here before, but all just the once and, as you’d expect, none have particularly fond memories. Unless the selectors spring a major shock and pick Monty, all the bowlers will be making their MCG bow.

 

They said:

“I would think on the WACA’s worst day they would still be faster and bouncier than anything we normally turn out. We’re quite slow on the first day normally.”

MCG curator Cameron Hodgkins dismisses talk of a fast, bouncy pitch for the Test.


“You’d expect everyone to do it. That is the beauty of home conditions, isn’t it? You can prepare a pitch to hopefully suit the home side. That is what we try and do in England in certain cases. There is no reason I would expect Australia not to do it.”

But England’s Alastair Cook is expecting another quick, green one.

 

“We won’t see similar conditions in Melbourne, because it doesn’t bounce as much there. When we were there for the three-day game they were preparing two pitches. One looked barer than the other, and they were debating then which they wanted to use. They weren’t that happy with the look of the slightly barer one, so more than likely they’ll go with the one with more grass cover.”

And coach Andy Flower isn’t bothered anyway.

 

“I’m glad we made the decision (to uses the alternative pitch) early. I’d hate to think if we released it after Perth whether anyone would think we were up to something. I’m not surprised with the conspiracy theory, given the success in Perth.”

It’s all entirely innocent, insists Melbourne Cricket Club chief executive Stephen Gough.

 

Weather forecast:

In a word: pleasant. Almost no chance of any rain spoiling what promises to be a magnificent occasion, with sunshine and fluffy white cloud the order of the day and temperatures ranging from the high teens to mid-20s Celsius.


Conclusion:

All the records and history here, of course, come with a caveat due to the whispers, conspiracy theories and flat-out panic about the pitch that’s being prepared for this one. But it is, in truth, something of a red herring.

While the groundsman will perhaps leave a bit more live grass on the pitch than normal, you can’t turn Melbourne into Perth in a week however hard you try.

Swing is also generally less of a factor here, which will be a relief to England’s middle order. Given the pitch is generally slow on day one and tends to flatten out, team selection will be interesting. Australia will obviously be keen to retain a winning side, but going in without a spinner is a far greater risk here than it was in Perth. It could also encourage England to bowl first again should they win the toss and try to exploit any early life in the pitch.

Generally the toss isn’t hugely significant on a pretty consistent pitch. The last eight have all batted first, but their mixed results suggest a) it doesn’t really matter and b) Australia usually win anyway.

Predicting the winner of an Ashes Test is becoming near impossible given the staggering shifts in momentum with seen in the last two series, both marked by the quirk of being extremely close despite featuring largely one-sided matches. But while it would be a surprise to see either batting line-up blown away here as they were in Perth (Australia’s batting, minus Hussey, was barely less pathetic than England’s), a positive result should still be expected: there have been no draws in the last 12 Tests here, and only two in the last 22.

 

From: Sky Sports

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