A deathly dull MCG pitch for the Boxing Day Test will be reviewed by the Melbourne Cricket Club after the outgoing Cricket Victoria chief executive Tony Dodemaide suggested the ground’s drop-in wicket square was overdue to be dug out and remade from scratch.
Only 24 wickets fell over the five days of the Ashes match, with the overall attendance of 262,616 falling about 10,000 short of the 2013-14 crowd, despite lasting an extra day. On match eve Australia’s captain Steven Smith said the pitch had looked ready to play on “three days ago” and it has been criticised by players and coaches on both sides since.
After play, the Cricket Australia team performance manager Pat Howard was seen in earnest conversation in the middle with the MCG’s incoming curator Matthew Page, who has left the WACA Ground to replace David Sandurski after he chose to move north to the Gabba. Smith said that ways needed to be found for the pitch to show more variation over five days, while England’s captain Joe Root called it “as flat a wicket as you’ll ever see” and reckoned it would not have changed much in character were it to be played on for another four days.
“I think it just needs to do something,” Smith said. “It hasn’t changed over five days and I’d say if we were playing for the next couple of days it probably wouldn’t change at all either. It’s got to find a way to have some pace and bounce, or take some spin, or do something. Obviously we saw a reasonable amount of reverse swing throughout the game but the ball just gets so soft so quickly because the surface is quite hard itself.
“It gets soft and doesn’t carry through and it’s really difficult to get people out. I don’t know mind if they’re flat as such. Just needs to have some pace and carry in them. This wicket just has none of that. It just skids through basically and if you look at the keeper and the slips throughout the whole game, we’re standing so close and I just don’t think it’s good for anyone.”
Stuart Fox, the MCC chief executive, said the surface had lacked both bounce and variation, and would be reviewed as the club seeks to create better pitches for international matches. “While this Test pitch did produce a good contest, it has not contained the bounce and pace that we expected,” Fox said.
“As the game progressed, the surface did not deteriorate nor bring the level of unpredictability that was anticipated. We review all elements of our performance at the conclusion of every event, and the quality of the pitch is no exception.
“We will take on board feedback from the players, umpires and cricket bodies, as well as our own observations. Our new head curator, Matthew Page, will take on pitch preparation duties in the coming weeks and we look forward to his input. Overall, we remain confident and determined to produce portable wickets that generate entertaining Test cricket. Portable pitches have been used at the MCG for more than 20 years and drawn Tests have been a rarity in that time.”
Dodemaide, who is departing CV at the end of the season and will be replaced by the Cricket Australia executive Andrew Ingleton, stated earlier on day five that the drop-in pitches may have veen allowed to outlive their natural lifespan when compared to other venues. Adelaide Oval’s drop-in pitches have in recent years shown far greater scope for more players and skills.
“I think we’ve got to talk about it,” Dodemaide told ABC Radio. “Clearly with these drop-in pitches, I think they’re some of the first that have been installed there, we’re still learning about the technology, but for mine I think we should be aiming for more variation, particularly as the game goes on, you want the pitch to break up, bring more players into the game, chasing runs or defending is harder as the game goes on, and I think these ones are just getting better and better [to bat on] and they’re not breaking up.
“I just think when you get occasions like this you want the game to run its natural course on a deteriorating pitch as we go on, because that’s the beauty of Test cricket isn’t it, as we go further into the game, more players come into the game, conditions change a little bit, and for mine conditions haven’t changed as much as they probably should.
“We have been working with the curators to try different things to get that variation later in the game, we need to talk about it more. If these are the original pitches that came into the ground, they’re probably nearly 15 years old now, and it might be that the lifespan of a particular drop-in pitch might be shorter than what we saw originally for the pitches that were all-year round. So it may be that we need to dig them out every so often, start again, and just that sweet spot for a pitch’s lifespan might be a lot younger than what we’re used to in a normal pitch.”
Australian curators meet annually with Cricket Australia to share information and discuss wider principles for the balance between bat and ball. “From a CA point of view, we are disappointed that the pitch did not produce a result but will work with the MCC for future matches,” a CA spokesman said.