MELBOURNE: A grim, grey day in Melbourne and a glum one for the game. It was almost a relief when the clouds that had been hovering over the MCG released their rain upon two sets of cricketers, striving hard but making very little headway.
The inhabitants of Melbourne may be the keenest spectators of sport in the world. They stroll from the city centre in huge numbers to watch the Australian Open tennis in January; likewise they turn up all winter next door to the MCG or to the Etihad Stadium at the other end of the city for their beloved AFL; the Big Bash T20 matches here turn visiting officials of the England and Wales Cricket Board green with envy, spawning crazy schemes to transport Melbourne to Manchester and beyond. And apparently at the last count about 217,000 people have passed through the turnstiles to watch this Test match.
Let’s hope they all come again. But there is no guarantee of that. This drop-in pitch encourages us to drop off. The system is employed because of the sway of the Australian rules football over here. The stadium earns most of its corn from the AFL and those footballers have to run over the square. So drop-in pitches are the norm though this is not the case in Sydney where the SCG Trust has insisted that the original turf is still used for cricket, football or no football.
In the 21st century when just about anything is possible by pressing a button, it appears to be surprisingly difficult to create a cricket pitch that deteriorates appropriately to allow an enthralling and changing balance between bat and ball over the space of five days. Many Australians have been railing against this surface this week, though their players and coaches have remained polite and discreet: it does not suit their bowling attack since the bounce is so low and slow. It does not suit their superior spinner since the ball declines to turn.
As the game has progressed the pursuit of reverse swing becomes the only hope for some lateral movement, which is why the umpires appeared to chide the England side when the ball was thrown into bare surfaces on Friday. The game becomes a battle of attrition, which is rarely the preferred Australian way.