England took their time to break through
Melbourne Cricket Ground curator Matthew Page was on a hiding to nothing despite his positive spin leading into day one of the Boxing Day Test.
Despite the fallout from last year’s unbreakable Ashes-road, the former WACA green man stood next to no chance of finding any extra spice using the same antiquated drop-in infrastructure.
Writing the death knell of a pitch with one side yet to bat is usually fraught with danger. However, yesterday’s covering of fluffy grass turned out to be nothing more than a sheep in wolves clothing, and the lifeless evidence so far points to another wicket-less bore fest.
At two for 215, India will feel on top with Virat Kohli set and the ball starting to come onto the bat.
A year earlier, Australia were similarly placed at three for 244. From there, the contest meandered to a lifeless draw as only 21 wickets fell over the closing four days.
The writing was on the wall only two overs after the national anthems with Tim Paine taking routine lengths from Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood below knee height. With no new ball swing, cut off the seam was everything, and there was none.
For all the pre-game talk of juicy improvements, the day one action proved on par with the most recent Sheffield Shield offering where only 31 wickets fell in the match between Victoria and Western Australia.
Sydney and the Gabba are last of the traditional in-situ squares but already after one Test, the new Perth drop-in offers all the unique qualities of its WACA neighbour.
Adelaide, for the most part, offers the five-day transitional qualities for the game’s best to entertain.
As it stands after day one, the docile Melbourne pitch has not offered anything to suggest an improvement on last year’s ‘poor’ rating as judged by ICC match referee Ranjan Madugalle.
Madugalle didn’t hold back in his match report saying, “The nature of the pitch did not change over the five days and there was no natural deterioration. As such, the pitch did not allow an even contest between the bat and the ball as it neither favoured the batsmen too much nor it gave the bowlers sufficient opportunity to take wickets.”
For one of the largest and if not most popular Test matches on the global cricket calendar, it is a damning comment that Cricket Australia can’t ignore beyond this summer.
According to ESPN Cricinfo, the MCG square is in line for a facelift in March when the current pitch configuration that has been in place since the late 1990s will be removed and replaced by a system like those used in Adelaide and Perth.
The report says the system is designed to allow a greater flow of moisture between the pitches in the square and into the wider sand and earth base around them, allowing for greater variation and deterioration over the course of a match.
For the 70,000-plus who part with their hard-earned on Australian cricket’s most hyped day, the change can’t come fast enough.
The whispers that the Boxing Day Test could be forced from the MCG sound too ludicrous to believe but they’ll soon be fact the longer the excavators are denied entry.