Melbourne draw has enhanced this Ashes series, not detracted from it

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    Test cricket is the wonderful sporting spectacle it is because of the nature of the drawn fourth Ashes Test in Melbourne, not in spite of it.

    Unsurprisingly, since the end of the Boxing Day Test – and even before it finished, to be fair – if the talk hasn’t been about the run-scoring feats of Steven Smith and Alastair Cook, it’s been about the state of the drop-in wicket at the MCG.

    Depending on which extreme you want to go, the wicket was primarily responsible for the death of this Test match, or Test cricket itself.

    And let’s not beat around the bush, it wasn’t a great pitch.

    I mean, the former batsman in me would have loved to have batted on it, and from a potential run-scoring perspective it may go down as one of the greatest cricket wickets ever prepared. But from the perspective of needing to take twenty wickets to win a match over the course of five days on a deck that didn’t so much evolve, as it just existed out in the middle of the great cricket coliseum, it wasn’t a great pitch.

    The headlines since the Test concluded don’t make for great reading either, starting with outright blame and populism.

    MCG drop-ins under review after bore draw” (ESPN CricInfo)

    Cricket was the loser in this tedious Test farce” (The Australian)

    How the MCG pitch which produced the boring Boxing Day draw came to be” (Fox Sports)

    Shane Warne says day-night Test will solve MCG pitch farce” (Daily Telegraph)

    Then there were pieces from the hand-wringing extreme.

    Lifeless drop-in pitch does Test cricket no favours” (The Times)

    …before finally moving onto interstate parochialism.

    Drop-in wicket should never be allowed at SCG after MCG shocker” (Sydney Morning Herald)

    All of them carry degrees of validity. But the signs were also there. In the three Sheffield Shield games played there before the Test, 36, 27, and 23 wickets fell at the expense of 1310, 846, and 974 runs, respectively. The first two games included second innings declarations, and Victoria batted just once in the third.

    Boxing Day

    (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

    After the highs of the Adelaide and Perth contests (and that’s not at all to suggest Brisbane was a doddle), Melbourne was always going to present the biggest challenge to Australia achieving their third Ashes whitewash in the last four home series.

    But if we’re honest with ourselves, and what we know and love Test cricket to be – a complicated but intoxicating mix of a simple game and changing conditions – achieving a result in a Test match isn’t supposed to be easy. Traffic over the course of five days, let alone a five-Test series is rarely completely one-way.

    The Melbourne draw serves as a timely reminder of why the three Tests that preceded were so good to watch for cricket lovers. As it stands, there were so many superb elements to the Boxing Day Test that don’t deserve to be lost in the throng of ‘The pitch was crap’ commentary that is still dominating.

    Cook’s fifth double century and third-highest score overall now means the 33-year-old has resumed control over his destiny as a Test batsman; Stuart Broad’s first innings 4/51 marked a crucial comeback for a player who by his own admission couldn’t really disagree with much of the criticism of his performance in the series.

    David Warner posted a second consecutive MCG Test century and was on track for a third; Smith’s match output created yet more records again, and Mitch Marsh’s second innings 166-ball 29 not out may, in time, become even more valuable to the Australian team than his 181 in Perth a fortnight earlier.

    England still had a chance of forcing a result, too. When Shaun Marsh pushed at a delivery from Broad just before Lunch on Day 5, Australia’s second-innings lead was just 14, and Warner had departed only seven overs earlier.

    Smith had only just reached his fifty. They’d have known, just as a nervous Australian dressing room and plenty of nervous Australian fans knew, that even just one more wicket soon after lunch would’ve thrown the game wide open.

    Instead, Smith and Mitch Marsh survived another 48.2 overs from that point to achieve the draw.

    Steve Smith scores his second Ashes hundred

    Was this Steve Smith’s best Test century? AFP PHOTO / GREG WOOD

    Reports of Test cricket’s demise on the back of this one drawn Test are, as seems to be the case with most knee-jerk commentary these days, grossly exaggerated.

    There was so much engrossing cricket played in Melbourne that it’s not funny. Even the rain breaks over the last two days helped add to the intrigue of the contest.

    You want to look at a result that doesn’t help Test cricket’s cause? Check out the scorecard of the South Africa-Zimbabwe Boxing Day Test in Port Elizabeth, a match scheduled as a four-day match but didn’t even require Tea on Day 2.

    The Ashes will stay in Australia; that much has been decided already. But the Melbourne draw has ensured the Fifth Test in Sydney this week starts as a very even contest.

    And whatever the result in Sydney, the Melbourne draw will have played a huge role in its significance in the context of the broader series result.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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    The Crowd Says (71)

    • Roar Guru

      January 2nd 2018 @ 7:32am
      Dutski said | January 2nd 2018 @ 7:32am | ! Report

      Morning Brett. Appreciate the big picture view to this series and while I agree that one drawn Test does not warrant the reaction seen in the press, taking a big picture view to the pitch issue is needed too. The pitch at the MCG suffered from the general philosophy, characterised by T20, that more runs means better cricket. James Sutherland essentially said as much in the lead up to the 4th Test. And we all know that some of the most gripping cricket hasn’t always been the most high scoring- and that includes all formats. Instead the most gripping Test cricket is when all 4 results are possible, preferably on Day 5. That’s where the 4th Test failed. The Test looked like a draw before a ball was bowled.
      I agree that nobody wants to see one sided contests like the game you mentioned, but neither does anyone want to see a run fest where a draw is almost a given.

      • January 2nd 2018 @ 8:07am
        Kangajets said | January 2nd 2018 @ 8:07am | ! Report

        Spot on , batsman have far too many advantages as it is already.

      • January 2nd 2018 @ 12:11pm
        AndyFNQ said | January 2nd 2018 @ 12:11pm | ! Report


    • January 2nd 2018 @ 7:51am
      Slane said | January 2nd 2018 @ 7:51am | ! Report

      I think the pitch is being used as an excuse by some Australians to explain why they couldn’t get Cook out.
      Apparently the pitch was a benign road with nothing in it to help the bowlers and yet somehow the Aussies managed to collapse in the back end of our first innings and then have a mini collapse in the second.
      The English bowlers were getting a lot more from the pitch than the Aussies and if we hadn’t missed a whole day of play to rain there almost certainly would have been a result.

      • January 2nd 2018 @ 9:32am
        jamesb said | January 2nd 2018 @ 9:32am | ! Report

        “Apparently the pitch was a benign road”

        Australia’s batting line up is still very fragile, where there is a heavy reliance on Smith and Warner. The Aussies at times made the pitch look like a minefield, which it wasn’t.

      • January 2nd 2018 @ 9:56am
        Marshall said | January 2nd 2018 @ 9:56am | ! Report

        The Aussies were 4/260. With another days play they would have made 400+ and would have had the chance to push for victory themselves.

        ‘couldn’t get Cook out’

        He was dropped twice, they ‘could’ get him out just missed the chances.

        Why couldn’t the poms get Smith out? Heck couldn’t get Mitch Marsh out?

        It was a road.

        • Columnist

          January 2nd 2018 @ 10:41am
          Ryan O'Connell said | January 2nd 2018 @ 10:41am | ! Report

          Well said, Marshall. Point(s) nailed.

          • January 2nd 2018 @ 10:46am
            Slane said | January 2nd 2018 @ 10:46am | ! Report

            Well said? Is Australia winning not a result anymore? Cook could have been out cheap and the Poms bowled out even cheaper? On a road to boot?

            You people contradict yourself in every comment. Learn to logic.

            • Columnist

              January 2nd 2018 @ 11:44am
              Ryan O'Connell said | January 2nd 2018 @ 11:44am | ! Report

              Your comment had completely confused me, I’ll be honest.

            • January 2nd 2018 @ 12:25pm
              Philip Douglas said | January 2nd 2018 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

              I disagreed with your original comment, but at least I could follow it – this one makes no sense at all.

      • January 2nd 2018 @ 11:20am
        Lindsay said | January 2nd 2018 @ 11:20am | ! Report

        To be fair they did get Cook out, twice. It was one of those moments in which, like Cardiff 2015, a single dropped catch dictated the result.

        Had Smith held that first catch, Australia would probably have gone into the third innings with a lead, and there would probably have been a result.

      • January 2nd 2018 @ 11:55am
        bazza said | January 2nd 2018 @ 11:55am | ! Report

        Aussies dropped cook 3 times that made it harder to get him out. But still well played by cook.

      • January 2nd 2018 @ 3:58pm
        Steele said | January 2nd 2018 @ 3:58pm | ! Report

        I call bulldust, it still would of been a draw imo, Sloane.

    • January 2nd 2018 @ 8:16am
      Jeffrey Dun said | January 2nd 2018 @ 8:16am | ! Report

      I respectfully disagree Brett. A pitch which utterly defeats the bowlers is not good for test cricket. It was boring to watch (at least I thought it was) and, according to Anderson, it was boring for the participants (or the bowlers at least).

      The state of the pitch, to some extent, detracted from the batting achievements.

      The pitches upon which India played during their last tour still live in my memory. If we serve up more pitches like this for the Indians next year (who knows how the new pitch in Perth will play) I, for one, will be switching off. I have no interest in watching Smith, Kohli, et al, batting on and on and on, on lifeless pitches.

      • January 2nd 2018 @ 9:02am
        AndyFNQ said | January 2nd 2018 @ 9:02am | ! Report


      • January 2nd 2018 @ 9:52am
        Mike said | January 2nd 2018 @ 9:52am | ! Report

        But the pitch didn’t defeat the English bowlers in the first innings.

        And Tubby, Clarke and Warne all felt that Root threw away a real chance for victory after Marsh’s dismissal, by not backing his spinners.

        As Warne pointed out, it’s not important that Malan is a “part-time bowler”. He was bowling well enough to be backed with three or four catchers. Same for Root himself, who should have had more overs. And even Ali’s main problem is comfidence – not helped by pulling all the catchers back as soon as he comes on.

        • January 2nd 2018 @ 12:27pm
          Jeffrey Dun said | January 2nd 2018 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

          “But the pitch didn’t defeat the English bowlers in the first innings.”

          Not in the first innings (Australia all out in 119 overs), but certainly in the second innings it did (4 Australian wickets from 124 overs).

          This has been a feature of the MCG pitch in the Shield this year. Not only does it not deteriorate, it gets better to bat on. I recall Ahmed saying after a Shield game this year that it was OK on day 1 but by day 4 it was a road.

          Twenty four wickets in 4.5 days play says it all.

          • January 2nd 2018 @ 3:54pm
            Mike said | January 2nd 2018 @ 3:54pm | ! Report

            Yes, but two very successful Australian captains and one of the greatest leg-spinners all felt that Joe Root missed an opportunity in the second innings. They felt that after Marsh was dismissed Root should have backed his spinners, including himself, with three or four catchers. Instead, he persisted with tired quicks, and a very defensive field.

            Coming from people with the experience of Clarke, Tubby and Warne, that carries weight. It indicates that a draw was not necessarily inevitable.

      • January 2nd 2018 @ 10:12am
        jameswm said | January 2nd 2018 @ 10:12am | ! Report

        Anderson said the pitch was boring after he bowled on it.

        If Starc played or Smith caught Cook on 66, I reckon we would have won. The pitch wasn’t that bad. Bird was innocuous on it. You needed to be a good bowler to take wickets on that pitch. I saw Hazelwood bowl a very good spell to someone, maybe Root. For 4 overs or so, Root struggled.

      • January 2nd 2018 @ 4:03pm
        Steele said | January 2nd 2018 @ 4:03pm | ! Report

        Well said Jeffrey, my thoughts exactly. Changes need to be made, I fear India might finally beat us at home if we don’t get a bit of life into the pitches. For many years now I look forward to watching the Aussies away series in S.A and England more than a home series. Just more balance between bat and ball. It’s bloody boring here.

    • January 2nd 2018 @ 8:27am
      Onside said | January 2nd 2018 @ 8:27am | ! Report

      The pitch was so lifeless, Lazarus wouldn’t have taken a wicket.

    • January 2nd 2018 @ 8:49am
      Womblat said | January 2nd 2018 @ 8:49am | ! Report

      Blind optimism is easy to admire.

      Let’s not sugar coat it, it’s boring cricket that’s hurting this form of the game. That morbid style was necessary for Australia in this particular game and purists appreciate that, but it just played right into the hands of the dilettante BBL. They would have been salivating at the thought they boosted their viewer numbers and resultant interest without lifting a finger.

      Far be it for anyone to suggest a solution which interferes with the fabric of a 150 year old tradition, but anyone who was watching Mitch Marsh block ball after ball for hours on end and had a heart rate that ever went above catatonic needs serious psychological intervention. Strategy and tactics? Worked. Entertainment? Zero. Effect on wide eyed kids? Shocking. Jeez, even the players got sick of it and cut it short.

      Grandad still lingers but he’s pretty pekid.

    • Columnist

      January 2nd 2018 @ 8:55am
      Ryan O'Connell said | January 2nd 2018 @ 8:55am | ! Report

      “…the Fifth Test in Sydney this week starts as a very even contest”.

      That’s as big a reach as Broad calling Melbourne a “winning draw”. No, it’s not even. It’s 3-0!

      • January 2nd 2018 @ 9:58am
        Marshall said | January 2nd 2018 @ 9:58am | ! Report

        ‘winning draw’ is a classic when you could only get 4 wickets in the seconds innings and the opposition was 100+ in front…

        • Columnist

          January 2nd 2018 @ 10:39am
          Ryan O'Connell said | January 2nd 2018 @ 10:39am | ! Report

          Haha! I know. Ridiculous.

          And the two batsmen at the crease were coming off a double hundred & a 180 odd in the last Test, and had faced 441 balls between them without losing a wicket. But sure, it was a “win” of some description for England…

      • Columnist

        January 2nd 2018 @ 12:34pm
        Brett McKay said | January 2nd 2018 @ 12:34pm | ! Report

        So you give England no hope at all of performing better in Sydney, mate, as a result of finding confidence in their Melbourne performance?

        What’s happened in the series has happened, that doesn’t change. But do you still think the two sides are as far apart going into Sydney as they were going into Melbourne?

        • Columnist

          January 2nd 2018 @ 2:29pm
          Ryan O'Connell said | January 2nd 2018 @ 2:29pm | ! Report

          It’s 3-0, and a big part of the reason for that result is Steve Smith. Do I think, after Melbourne, they’re closer to getting him out? I don’t. Do you?

          • Columnist

            January 2nd 2018 @ 3:02pm
            Brett McKay said | January 2nd 2018 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

            No, I don’t. But I do think they bowling better and building better partnerships as a result of Melbourne.

            • Columnist

              January 2nd 2018 @ 3:21pm
              Ryan O'Connell said | January 2nd 2018 @ 3:21pm | ! Report

              The pitch brought the teams closer together for one Test.

              • January 2nd 2018 @ 11:08pm
                Freddie said | January 2nd 2018 @ 11:08pm | ! Report

                They’ll be just as far apart when they play in England in two years time. Test cricket is mainly down to home advantage these days. Australia hasn’t won in England since 2001. England has managed it once in goodness knows how many years in Australia. Australia can’t win on the sub-continent, but rarely lose here etc etc etc.

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